September 11, 2010

Non-cootie-covered ways to make an effort?

I'm totally out of touch on this subject, so let me ask commenters for ways for young men to come up with "interests" to put in personal ads beyond Tom Clancy and Van Halen, interests that might incline young women to think they might have something to talk about with you if you were to get together. My guess is that my median unmarried male reader is not a Roissy-style silver-tongued devil who can improvise brilliantly on every woman's favorite subject (Let's Talk About Me!), but instead prefers something slightly impersonal to discuss when first getting acquainted.

I'll give you two possibilities to get started:

1. For example, develop some level of expertise in the architectural history of where you live. Architecture is aesthetic, yet manly. Not that many girls know much about architecture relative to their other aesthetic interests, but they are naggingly aware that they should know more. (Obviously, if you live in Chicago, you will have more to talk about than if you live in Palmdale, so your mileage may vary.) For example, the recent indie romantic-drama hit, 500 Days of Summer, uses architectural fandom, with LA's rather spotty downtown carefully framed to look like downtown Chicago, as the basis for a rather nerdy young man's appeal to Zoey Deschanel.

An interest in architecture also provides a high-minded excuse to talk about what every 20 or 30 something is actually fascinated by: real estate. What neighborhoods will go up in value, which ones down? Architecture appreciation provides an excuse to stroll around gentrifying but still slightly edgy neighborhoods on cheap dates. 

2. Read Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen (or at least watch one of the 3 movie/TV adaptions of the last two decades). It's really witty, it's increasingly influential (it's the touchstone for popularizations of evolutionary psychology, among much else), and it will teach you a lot about the feminine mind. Plus, girls like it!

Now, what's the worst that could happen? These two suggestions might totally fail to help you with the ladies, but you will still have learned something of the architecture of your town and you will have read one of the great books in the English language.

That about exhausts my list of suggestions. What are yours?

September 10, 2010


 Inductivist notes a striking change from General Social Survey data:

To some extent, this reflects a real change: recent Mexican immigrants tend to be more Indian (darker and relatively shorter) than Mexican immigrants of generations past, who tended to come from northern Mexico. But, mostly, it reflects a change in incentives and prestige in American society. 

In turn, I think this partly explains the remarkable lack of high individual accomplishment by Mexican Americans over the last couple of decades. Consider the country club sports, tennis and golf, in which three Mexican-American all-time greats emerged in the 1940s through 1970s, Pancho Gonzales, Lee Trevino, and Nancy Lopez, but none since then despite vast increases in numbers.

It would appear that contrary to contemporary thinking, Mexican-Americans performed better relative to their numbers when they felt challenged to prove themselves than in recent decades when society has bent over backwards to make all young minorities feel "comfortable" about themselves. In general, and in particular for Mexican Americans, a lack of challenge leads to complacency.

British journalist: French schools don't nurture chavism enough

After sending his daughters to school in Paris, British journalist Peter Gumbel has written a book complaining that French schools are run by intelligent adults proud of being intelligent adults, who refuse to nurture inflated senses of accomplishment in their charges. From The Observer:
"These studies show that, while French children score quite highly in European studies on their ability and performance, when asked they rate themselves below countries with low levels of literacy," he said. "So even when they have the ability, their self-esteem has been knocked out of them."

Gumbel's book praises British schools, which may surprise UK parents accustomed to having them compared unfavourably with those across the channel. He told the Observer: "Although the French with their national curriculum have maintained standards and avoided being dumbed down, their system focuses on the transmission of knowledge and doesn't even remotely address the child or their wellbeing.

"There is more to school than getting good marks, and in Britain schools are not just about your brain but about sport and arts and finding lots of different ways of excelling. The British system may focus less on results, but it nurtures self-esteem, personality and character, which is something totally missing from the French system and this is tragic."

Here's my review of the French movie The Class, which is the opposite of all the Nice White Lady movies made in the U.S. The Class illustrates the typical French teacher's opinion of his students: they're surly morons.

September 9, 2010

The PC-Libertarian Conventional Wisdom Nexus, II

Unlike Austan Goolsbee (see next post), who has gone from being an NYT columnist to being Chairman of Obama's Council of Economic Advisers, Peter Orszag has gone from being Chairman of Obama's Council of Economic Advisers to being an NYT columnist. Orszag writes in the NYT:
The most important book I’ve read over the past six months is Matthew Syed’s “Bounce.” Teddy Roosevelt once said that “in this life we get nothing save by effort.” Syed shows how trenchant Roosevelt was.

Syed is a two-time Olympian in table tennis. His book is impressive for two reasons. First, he takes empirical evidence on the science of success seriously (and in the areas where I know the literature to some degree, his depiction is quite accurate). Second, he shows how that evidence shatters widespread myths about what leads to better performance in any complex undertaking (including, for example, chess, tennis and math).

Basically, we’ve bought into several misconceptions about excellence, which are not only wrong but affirmatively counterproductive.

Let me focus today on the core one. Too many of us believe in the “talent” myth — that top performers are born, rather than built. But Syed shows that in almost every arena in which tasks are complex, top performers excel not because of innate ability but because of dedicated practice. ...

Success in most arenas of life is thus not a reflection of innate skill but rather devoted effort. And Syed demonstrates why it is not just effort, but purposeful effort that is key — if you’re going to get better at chunking, you can’t just go through the motions and punch time on the clock. You need to put your heart into it. 

Is it really too much to ask that people at the top of the pyramid in the U.S. talk to the rest of us like we are adults? Isn't it obvious that the answer to the question of what does it take to get to the top, nature or nurture, is: both?

P.S. Orszag is back in the NYT with more Gladwellian conventional wisdom, having been roughed up pretty badly by commenters the first time:
"Or to phrase it differently, it seems plausible that many more people than commonly believed (but perhaps not all people!) have sufficient innate skill to perform at world-class levels in complex fields with sufficient practice; the problem is that they do not undertake the necessary practice. Indeed, the examples we have of individuals who put in 10,000 or more hours of dedicated practice and fail to achieve stunning levels of performance is quite limited — because most people are not willing to put in that time and effort."

I guess Orszag has never heard the term "career minor leaguer." Think of Kevin Costner's character in Bull Durham.

Or how about future Hall of Fame manager Tommy Lasorda's failure to make it as major leaguer despite an excellent minor league record? Lasorda pitched only 58 innings with a terrible 6.48 ERA in the Show during a playing career lasting from 1945-1960. I guess he just didn't bleed Dodger Blue enough or he would have made it in the big leagues. His failure to make it in the big leagues couldn't have had anything to do with his lack of innate physical talent.

The trick these people play is in their term of art "dedicated practice," which is used to make their argument unfalsifiable. Sure, from age 5 to 33, Tommy Lasorda spent tens of thousands of hours practicing baseball, but, by definition, he wasn't practicing baseball the right way or he wouldn't have failed.

In summary, the point is not that Orszag shows a Malcolm Gladwell-level ability to perform reality checks on his favorite ideas. Orszag isn't particularly important in and of himself, other than that he represents roughly the political median of elite opinion in 21st Century America. He shows that there exist such systematic impediments to clear thought among elites today that somebody as smart and well connected as Orszag can make a fool of himself in his first week as a NYT columnist because he doesn't know any better.

The PC-Libertarian Worldview

From the New York Times:
President Obama on Friday will promote a longtime economic adviser, Austan D. Goolsbee, to chairman of his Council of Economic Advisers, signaling continuity even as a high unemployment rate has left much of the public dissatisfied with administration policies. ... Mr. Obama’s decision to elevate Mr. Goolsbee, a left-of-center economist, to succeed Christina D. Romer, who returned this month to the University of California, Berkeley, is part of a broader flux within the White House economic team, as architects of the government’s response to the worst recession in 80 years begin moving up and out and their roles shift.

Goolsbee was Barack Obama's chief economic adviser in 2007, the first year of his Presidential run. Here are excerpts from Goolsbee's March 29, 2007 column in the New York Times, where he demonstrated his economic prescience by defending subprime mortgages because they increase homeownership among minorities:

... Almost every new form of mortgage lending — from adjustable-rate mortgages to home equity lines of credit to no-money-down mortgages — has tended to expand the pool of people who qualify but has also been greeted by a large number of people saying that it harms consumers and will fool people into thinking they can afford homes that they cannot.

Congress is contemplating a serious tightening of regulations to make the new forms of lending more difficult. New research from some of the leading housing economists in the country, however, examines the long history of mortgage market innovations and suggests that regulators should be mindful of the potential downside in tightening too much. ...
Lost in the current discussion about borrowers’ income levels in the subprime market is the fact that someone with a low income now but who stands to earn much more in the future would, in a perfect market, be able to borrow from a bank to buy a house. That is how economists view the efficiency of a capital market: people’s decisions unrestricted by the amount of money they have right now.

And this study shows that measured this way, the mortgage market has become more perfect, not more irresponsible. People tend to make good decisions about their own economic prospects. ...

Of course, basing loans on future earnings expectations is riskier than lending money to prime borrowers at 30-year fixed interest rates. That is why interest rates are higher for subprime borrowers and for big mortgages that require little money down. Sometimes the risks flop. Sometimes people even have to sell their properties because they cannot make the numbers work.

The traditional causes of foreclosure, even before there was subprime lending, were job loss, divorce and major medical expenses. And the national foreclosure data seem to suggest that these issues remain paramount. ...

Also, the historical evidence suggests that cracking down on new mortgages may hit exactly the wrong people. As Professor Rosen explains, “The main thing that innovations in the mortgage market have done over the past 30 years is to let in the excluded: the young, the discriminated against, the people without a lot of money in the bank to use for a down payment.” It has allowed them access to mortgages whereas lenders would have once just turned them away.

The Center for Responsible Lending estimated that in 2005, a majority of home loans to African-Americans and 40 percent of home loans to Hispanics were subprime loans. The existence and spread of subprime lending helps explain the drastic growth of homeownership for these same groups. Since 1995, for example, the number of African-American households has risen by about 20 percent, but the number of African-American homeowners has risen almost twice that rate, by about 35 percent. For Hispanics, the number of households is up about 45 percent and the number of homeowning households is up by almost 70 percent.

And do not forget that the vast majority of even subprime borrowers have been making their payments. Indeed, fewer than 15 percent of borrowers in this most risky group have even been delinquent on a payment, much less defaulted.

When contemplating ways to prevent excessive mortgages for the 13 percent of subprime borrowers whose loans go sour, regulators must be careful that they do not wreck the ability of the other 87 percent to obtain mortgages.

For be it ever so humble, there really is no place like home, even if it does come with a balloon payment mortgage.

Tyler Cowen posted the paragraphs about minorities benefiting from subprime loans on Marginal Revolution under the approving title "Austan Goolsbee Is Not a Credit Snob." I commented on March 29, 2007:
"There was a huge push by the government over the last 12-14 years to get banks to make more home loans to minorities. As Malcolm X would have said if he was an economist, today, the chickens are coming home to roost."

Do you think anybody will dare bring up Goolsbee's column to his face?

September 8, 2010

Bill Gates calls for higher IQ toilets

Rich Karlgaard of Forbes writes:

At an August 6, 2010 conference in Lake Tahoe, the richest and smartest guy in the room, Bill Gates, offered his opinion on the next big thing.


Toilets. All kinds of toilets. Broadband biffies that email PSA counts to your doctor. Do-gooder dumpers that save water in the third world.

“[Toilets are] one of the greatest under investments,” Gates effused. “Not much money goes into that. You end up with the low IQ guys on the toilets.” 

I think what Bill is saying here is that low IQ guys go into the toilet industry.
If you know Gates — I once spent 5 days on the road with him — you’ll know he uses the term, IQ, a lot. Gates has always loved IQ. He loves it like a football coach loves 40-yard-dash speed. It never seems to occur to Gates that IQ has become a politically incorrect subject for many. 

Which raises the question of who is actually running the Gates Foundation, which has devoted billions to educations fads, such "small learning communities" and to bullying school boards into requiring passing Algebra II to graduate from high schoo. It's just another example of today's lack of intellectual integration between private life and public policy discourse.

(To its credit, the Gates did, however, give $15 million to adding iodine to salt in Third World countries, which helps reduce cretinism.)

Making an effort

Gizmodo has an article analyzing 526,000 profiles on the dating site OKcupid in terms of most racially distinctive common phrases (not the most common phrases, but the most different). The white guy list starts off, in order of distinctiveness by race:
tom clancy, van halen, golfing, harley davidson, ghostbusters, phish, the big lebowski, soundgarden, brew, boating, nofx, groundhog day, hockey, jeep, blazing saddles, the red sox, the dropkick murphys, megadeth, grilling, ccr, robert heinlein, boats, skiing, zappa, nascar

White women start off:
the red sox, jodi picoult, boating, nascar

Guys, do you notice something here? Girls are at least pretending to like stuff you might like, such as the Red Sox and Nascar. They're making an effort

Not all guys are this stubborn. For example, here's the top of the Latino male list:
merengue, bachata, colombian, hispanic, latino, dominican, stationed, peruvian, reggaeton, familia, cuban, musica, salsa, soccer, amigos, peru, boxing, automotive, baseball, hola, marines, mma, hip hop, ufc *

The first two on the lists are dances. Latino guys know that Latina girls like to dance, so they claim to like to dance, too.

It's really not that complicated, but an awful lot of white guys treat making any sort of effort to be able to fake an interest in anything girls might want to talk about as a sure way to get cooties.

* By the way, it's interesting that "Mexican" doesn't show up on the Latino list. Is that because "Mexican food" shows up on other people's profiles, so "Mexican" is not racially distinctive enough. Or is "Mexican" kind of the unimpressive default for Latinos, and everybody who can claim to be something else wants to specify they aren't Mexican?

September 7, 2010

Critical Thinking

In the comments to my recent post on the Golden Age of Test Creation, Mitch points me to Linda Darling-Hammond, the prominent Ed Schooler from the Stanford Ed School, explaining how better tests would make American students smarter:
Whereas students in most parts of the United States are typically asked simply to recognize a single fact they have memorized from a list of answers, students in high-achieving countries are asked to apply their knowledge in the ways that writers, mathematicians, historians and scientists do.

In the United States, a typical item on the 12th grade National Assessment of Educational Progress, for example, asks students which two elements from a multiple choice list are found in the Earth's atmosphere. An item from the Victoria, Australia, high school biology test (which resembles those in Hong Kong and Singapore) describes how a particular virus works, asks students to design a drug to kill the virus and explain how the drug operates (complete with diagrams), and then to design and describe an experiment to test the drug - asking students to think and act like scientists. 

This kind of testing would clearly pay for itself just from the patent rights to the anti-viral drugs designed by the high school test-takers. They must be worth billions!

"The American"

Why has The American, in which superstar George Clooney plays an international hitman hiding out from Swedish assassins in Italy, been released in early September, the Idiocracy season of the Hollywood calendar?

Directed by Dutch photographer Anton Corbijn, it has received mostly positive reviews from American critics. They hasten to point out that The American is not an action thriller as its trailer promises. Instead, it’s a very European art film, full of abstraction, and if you find it boring, then you are a mouth-breathing American who doesn’t deserve to enjoy it.

Audiences have been less enthusiastic. Ten minutes into Clooney’s plodding, morose, obtuse performance as a depressed contract killer, coughs started ricocheting around the theatre. After twelve minutes, my son politely asked, “Dad, is it okay if I go sneak into Machete now?” When the credits rolled, half the audience sprinted out, snorting in disgust, while the other half sat rooted, sure that there had to be a post-credits stinger scene in which something cool, or at least interesting, would finally happen. ...

The American is a lowbrow art film. ... The script’s handful of truthy details are largely mistakes that anybody with access to Wikipedia could have fixed in ten minutes. The Day of the Jackal it’s not. For instance, Clooney proudly announces that his sniper rifle shoots bullets at 365 miles per hour. What is it? A paintball gun? The M14’s muzzle velocity of 850 meters per second is five times faster. And when is muzzle velocity denoted in miles per hour? With equal verisimilitude, George could have described the speed as “a million furlongs per fortnight.”

Read the whole thing there and comment upon it below. 

Whatever Happened to the Democrats' Youth / Minority Voter Juggernaut?

In my new column, I review the numbers on the likely sizable decline from 2008 to 2010 in young and minority and, especially young minority voters. We've been told over and over that the Arizona law will lead to a tidal wave of minorities voting Democratic, but current polling shows minorities bored with politics and not thinking about the November elections. I review various reasons and focus on one seldom articulated:
Appealing to white interests does not automatically alienate Hispanic and Asian voters.

When you think about common human psychology, this shouldn’t be surprising. For example, the press’s notion that Latino voters would respond to Republican criticism of legal and illegal immigration with relentless resentment, with endless spite, is just another example of projection by the media elite.

The reality is that most nonwhites can’t be bothered to feel as much racial hatred as the MSM demands they feel. They’ve got a life.

Instead, human beings generally try to associate themselves with what is being praised by society and disassociate themselves from what is being criticized. Being callow, young people are particularly impressionable. Despite all the romantic piffle about young rebels, the fact is that young people (especially the kind who are likely to vote) tend to be conformists. Hispanic and Asian youths are perhaps even more conformist than white and black youths.

When viewed from this perspective, the rise and fall of young Hispanic and Asian excitement over Obama’s party in 2008 to 2010 makes sense. Voting for a black candidate for President was not an act of youthful rebellion for Hispanics and Asians, but of conformity to the endlessly spelled-out wishes of the respectable institutions of society: the media, the schools, and even, so far anybody could tell, the Republican nominee.

Similarly, if the President of the United States praises illegal immigrants (as George W. Bush did, saying “You're going to come here if you're worth your salt, if you want to put food on the table for your families”), well, Viva La Raza!

But on the other hand, if white people continue to become ever so slightly less intimidated about publicly defending their own interests, well, Hispanic and Asian young people have more fun things to do with their time than worry about elections.

This implies a simple, effective strategy for the Republican Party—the opposite of that pursued by Bush, Rove, and McCain: Instead of appeasing professional minority activists and thus making them more powerful by letting them claim to be able to deliver goodies, stand up to them.

The GOP remains, overwhelmingly, a party whose most enthusiastic supporters are mature white men. Stop being ashamed of that fact. Show some self-respect. Stand up for the interests of your voters. Don’t let ethnic hustlers bully your constituents so much.

Read the whole thing at and comment upon it here.

September 6, 2010

The Golden Age of Standardized Test Creation

Psychometrics is a relatively mature field of science, and a politically unpopular one. So you might think there isn't much money to be made in making up brand new standardized tests. Yet, there is.

From the NYT:
U.S. Asks Educators to Reinvent Student Tests, and How They Are Given
Standardized exams — the multiple-choice, bubble tests in math and reading that have played a growing role in American public education in recent years — are being overhauled.

Over the next four years, two groups of states, 44 in all, will get $330 million to work with hundreds of university professors and testing experts to design a series of new assessments that officials say will look very different from those in use today.

The new tests, which Secretary of Education Arne Duncan described in a speech in Virginia on Thursday, are to be ready for the 2014-15 school year.

They will be computer-based, Mr. Duncan said, and will measure higher-order skills ignored by the multiple-choice exams used in nearly every state, including students’ ability to read complex texts, synthesize information and do research projects.

“The use of smarter technology in assessments,” Mr. Duncan said, “makes it possible to assess students by asking them to design products of experiments, to manipulate parameters, run tests and record data.”

I don't know what the phrase "design products of experiments" even means, so I suspect that the schoolchildren of 2014-15 won't be doing much of it.

Okay, I looked up Duncan's speech, "Beyond the Bubble Tests," and what he actually said was "design products or experiments," which almost makes sense, until you stop and think about it. Who is going to assess the products the students design? George Foreman? Donald Trump? (The Donald would be good at grading these tests: tough, but fair. Here's a video of Ali G pitching the product he designed -- the "ice cream glove" -- to Trump.
Because the new tests will be computerized and will be administered several times throughout the school year, they are expected to provide faster feedback to teachers than the current tests about what students are learning and what might need to be retaught.
Both groups will produce tests that rely heavily on technology in their classroom administration and in their scoring, she noted.
Both will provide not only end-of-year tests similar to those in use now but also formative tests that teachers will administer several times a year to help guide instruction, she said.
And both groups’ tests will include so-called performance-based tasks, designed to mirror complex, real-world situations.
In performance-based tasks, which are increasingly common in tests administered by the military and in other fields, students are given a problem — they could be told, for example, to pretend they are a mayor who needs to reduce a city’s pollution — and must sift through a portfolio of tools and write analytically about how they would use them to solve the problem.

Oh, boy ...

There is some good stuff here -- adaptive tests are a good idea (both the military's AFQT and the GRE have gone over to them). But there's obvious trouble, too.

Okay, so these new tests are going to be much more complex, much more subjective, and get graded much faster than fill-in-the-bubble tests? They'll be a dessert topping and a floor wax!

These sound a lot like the Advanced Placement tests offered to high school students, which usually include lengthy essays. But AP tests take two months to grade, and are only offered once per year (in May, with scores coming back in July), because they use high school teachers on their summer vacations to grade them.

There's no good reason why fill-in-the-bubble tests can't be scored quickly. A lot of public school bubble tests are graded slothfully, but they don't have to be. My son took the ERB's Independent School Entrance Exam on a Saturday morning and his score arrived at our house in the U.S. Mail the following Friday, six days later.

The only legitimate reason for slow grading is if there are also essays to be read, but in my experience, essay results tend to be dubious at least below the level of Advanced Placement tests, where there is specific subject matter in common. The Writing test that was added to the SAT around 2003 has largely been a bust, with many colleges refusing to use it in the admissions process.

One often overlooked problem with any kind of writing test, for example, is that graders have a hard time reading kids' handwriting. You can't demand that kids type because millions of them can't. Indeed, writing test results tend to correlate with number of words written, which is often more of a test of handwriting speed than of anything else. Multiple choice tests have obvious weaknesses, but at least they minimize the variance introduced by small motor skills.

And the reference to "performance-based tasks" in which people are supposed to "write analytically" is naive. I suspect that Duncan and the NYT man are confused by all the talk during the Ricci case about the wonders of "assessment centers" in which candidates for promotion are supposed to sort through an in-basket and talk out loud about how they would handle problems. In other words, those are hugely expensive oral tests. The city of New Haven brought in 30 senior fire department officials from out of state to be the judges on the oral part of the test.

And the main point of spending all this money on an oral test is that an oral test can't be blindgraded. In New Haven, 19 of the 30 oral test judges were minorities, which isn't something that happens by randomly recruiting senior fire department officials from across the country.

But nobody can afford to rig the testing of 35,000,000 students annually.
Here are some excerpts from Duncan's speech:
President Obama called on the nation's governors and state education chiefs "to develop standards and assessments that don't simply measure whether students can fill in a bubble on a test, but whether they possess 21st century skills like problem-solving and critical thinking and entrepreneurship and creativity."

You know your chain is being yanked when you hear that schoolteachers are supposed to teach "21st century skills" like "entrepreneurship." So, schoolteachers are going to teach kids how to be Steve Jobs?

Look, there are a lot of good things to say about teachers, but, generally speaking, people who strive for union jobs with lifetime tenure and summers off are not the world's leading role models on entrepreneurship.

Further, whenever you hear teachers talk about how they teach "critical thinking," you can more or less translate that into "I hate drilling brats on their times tables. It's so boring." On the whole, teachers aren't very good critical thinkers. If they were, Ed School would drive them batty. (Here is an essay about Ed School by one teacher who is a good critical thinker.)
And last but not least, for the first time, the new assessments will better measure the higher-order thinking skills so vital to success in the global economy of the 21st century and the future of American prosperity. To be on track today for college and careers, students need to show that they can analyze and solve complex problems, communicate clearly, synthesize information, apply knowledge, and generalize learning to other settings. ...

Over the past 19 months, I have visited 42 states to talk to teachers, parents, students, school leaders, and lawmakers about our nation's public schools. Almost everywhere I went, I heard people express concern that the curriculum had narrowed as more educators "taught to the test," especially in schools with large numbers of disadvantaged students.

Two words: Disparate Impact.

The higher the intellectual skills that are tested, the larger the gaps between the races will turn out to be. Consider the AP Physics C exam, the harder of the two AP physics tests: In 2008, 5,705 white males earned 5s (the top score) versus six black females.

In contrast, tests of rote memorization, such as having third graders chant the multiplication tables, will have smaller disparate impact than tests of whether students "can analyze and solve complex problems, communicate clearly, synthesize information, apply knowledge, and generalize learning to other settings." That's a pretty decent description of what IQ tests measure.

Duncan says that the new tests could replace existing high school exit exams that students must pass to graduate.
Many educators have lamented for years the persistent disconnect between what high schools expect from their students and the skills that colleges expect from incoming freshman. Yet both of the state consortia that won awards in the Race to the Top assessment competition pursued and got a remarkable level of buy-in from colleges and universities.

... In those MOUs, 188 public colleges and universities and 16 private ones agreed that they would work with the consortium to define what it means to be college-ready on the new high school assessments.

The fact that you can currently graduate from high school without being smart enough for college is not a bug, it's a feature. Look, this isn't Lake Wobegon. Half the people in America are below average in intelligence. They aren't really college material. But they shouldn't all have to go through life branded as a high school dropout instead of high school graduate because they weren't lucky enough in the genetic lottery to be college material.

The Gates Foundation and the U. of California ganged up on the LA public schools to get the school board to pass a rule that nobody will be allowed to graduate who hasn't passed three years of math, including Algebra II. That's great for UC, not so great for an 85 IQ kid who just wants a high school diploma so employers won't treat him like (uh oh) a high school dropout. But, nobody gets that.

Another benefit of Duncan's new high stakes tests will be Smaller Sample Sizes of Questions:
With the benefit of technology, assessment questions can incorporate audio and video. Problems can be situated in real-world environments, where students perform tasks or include multi-stage scenarios and extended essays.

By way of example, the NAEP has experimented with asking eighth-graders to use a hot-air balloon simulation to design and conduct an experiment to determine the relationship between payload mass and balloon altitude. As the balloon rises in the flight box, the student notes the changes in altitude, balloon volume, and time to final altitude. Unlike filling in the bubble on a score sheet, this complex simulation task takes 60 minutes to complete.

So, the NAEP has experimented with this kind of question. How did the experiment work out?

You'll notice that the problem with using up 60 minutes of valuable testing time on a single multipart problem instead of, say, 60 separate problems is that it radically reduces the sample size. A lot of kids will get off track right away and get a zero for the whole one hour segment. Other kids will have seen a hot air balloon problem the week before and nail the whole thing and get a perfect score for the hour.

That kind of thing is fine for the low stakes NAEP where results are only reported by groups with huge sample sizes (for example, the NAEP reports scores for whites, blacks, and Hispanics, but not for Asians). But for high stakes testing of individual students and of their teachers, it's too random. AP tests have large problems on them, but they are only given to the top quarter or so of high school students in the country, not the bottom half of grade school students.

It's absurd to think that it's all that crucial that all American schoolchildren must be able to "analyze and solve complex problems, communicate clearly, synthesize information, apply knowledge, and generalize learning to other settings." You can be a success in life without being able to do any of that terribly well.

Look, for example, at the Secretary of Education. Arne Duncan has spent 19 months traveling to 42 states, talking about testing with teachers, parents, school leaders, and lawmakers. Yet, has he been able to synthesize information about testing terribly well at all? Has his failure to apply knowledge and generalize learning about testing gotten him fired from the Cabinet?

What college is this?

You know how colleges are always putting pictures on their websites and brochures to show how diverse they are, even Photoshopping in some diversity if they don't have any handy? A reader called my attention to these pictures on the home page of a large university. As you'll notice, they are all just a bunch of white people. 

What gives? What university is this?

I particularly like these pictures here.

Diet and recent evolution

It's common to assume that bread must be good for you because most people in Europe ate a lot of bread over the last few thousand years, so there would have been Darwinian selection for eating bread. No doubt that's true to a sizable extent. 

Still, if you are of European descent, you probably aren't descended on average from the average person in European history. Consider it in the light of Greg Clark's findings in A Farewell to Alms: people of European descent tend to be descended from affluent Europeans, typically from successful farmers and landowners. Your ancestors may well, on average, have eaten more meat (or other expensive foods) than the farm hands they employed.

You may well have ancestors who could afford only bread and other ancestors who ate a lot of the roast beef of merrie old England (or wherever). Which complex of genes for dealing with diet you would end up with is hard to predict. You may differ a lot in which foods are best for you even from a sibling.
I think this may explain a little bit about the famous paradox of how many East Asians stay slender eating a heavily carbohydrate diet, a fact that helped motivate the government's and medical establishment's over-emphasis of grains in your diet in the later 20th Century. According to economic historians such as Clark and David Landes, East Asian cultures tended to maximize population density through early marriage. This in turn meant intensive grain farming to get as many calories out of an acre as possible. Which then means that East Asians tend to be selected for being healthy on a highly grain-based diet.

In contrast, Europeans tended to not have as much of the population boom / famine cycle as East Asians because they delayed marriage and childbearing until they could afford it. Rich girls in England married young, poor girls married later or not at all. This meant that the English could afford a richer diet because they didn't need to squeeze quite as many calories out of each acre, and could devote more land to growing protein and fat (e.g., cows).

My diet tip

I don't normally give diet tips because A) I don't know much about diet; B) my experience is that your mileage may vary, and C) because I have a mirror. However, I have lost 10 or 15 pounds this year, which I think in part is due to trying to have a jar of dry roasted edamame (i.e., soybeans) around for snacking.

I find edamame a good snack because they are high in protein, moderate in fat, and almost all the carbs in them are dietary fiber. Sugar and starch just make me hungrier for more sugar and starch, while protein and fat tend to assuage hunger longer. But the real key is that while edamame aren't awful tasting, but then they aren't very good tasting either. In contrast, salted cashews are high in fat and protein, too, but it's hard to stop eating them because they are delicious. It's easy to stop eating edamame as soon as you aren't hungry. They don't taste great and they're a chore to grind up with your teeth. So, they are more like anti-hunger bombs than a tasty snack.

And they're cheap -- I bought 1.8 pound jars at Costco for $6, although that might have been a special deal.  (They are salted, so watch out if that is an issue for you.)

Of course, everybody is different when it comes to diet. If this tip works for 5% of the population, well, that's pretty good.