Archive for the ‘education’ Category

return on college investment: it’s about the variance, people

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When I argue that we have too much college, people quickly fall on the well established fact that college graduates make a lot more than non-college graduates. But you don’t need to be an education skeptic to ask a sensible question: what’s the variance? Are some people not making the college premium? How many? Well, turns out that a firm has been calculating the rate of return for college and it varies a huge amount. There are folks who don’t make it back. Some college graduates are making a *negative* rate of return. From the economist:

A report by PayScale, a research firm, tries to measure the returns on higher education in America (see article). They vary enormously. A graduate in computer science from Stanford can expect to make $1.7m more over 20 years than someone who never went to college, after the cost of that education is taken into account. A degree in humanities and English at Florida International University leaves you $132,000 worse off. Arts degrees (broadly defined) at 12% of the colleges in the study offered negative returns; 30% offered worse financial rewards than putting the cash in 20-year Treasury bills.

None of this matters if you are rich and studying fine art to enhance your appreciation of the family Rembrandts. But most 18-year-olds in America go to college to get a good job. That is why the country’s students have racked up $1.1 trillion of debt—more than America’s credit-card debts. For most students college is still a wise investment, but for many it is not. Some 15% of student debtors default within three years; a startling 115,000 graduates work as caretakers.

In other words, before we rush more people into the college, we have to make it cheaper, much cheaper. And we shouldn’t facilitate degrees that massively bad consequences for your economic life chances.

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Written by fabiorojas

April 11, 2014 at 12:06 am

Posted in economics, education, fabio

meet me in kentucky!!!!

PAN African

This Wednesday, I will be a guest of the Department of Pan-African Studies at the University of Louisville. Along with Ibram  X. Kendi, we will discuss the struggle for legitimacy in Africana Studies. The talk will be this coming Wednesday, March 26 at the Chao Auditorium at the University of Louisville at 5:30pm. I will be hanging out all day at Pan-African Studies, so if you want to meet, just email me.

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Written by fabiorojas

March 24, 2014 at 12:52 am

college: the basic facts

Having spent a lot of time doing higher education research, I get asked about college all the time. Here are my major talking points.

For high school students:

  • Even though social scientists disagree on why college is correlated with income, the evidence does show that there is a very large difference in life outcomes between college degree earners and everyone else.
  • Don’t worry about which college to go to. Find one that you enjoy and that is affordable. In general, most people will move into jobs where pedigree does not matter.
  • Getting into college: With the exception of the top 40 schools in America – out of 4,000! – most colleges have high acceptance rates, including a lot of good ones.
  • The exception: There are a few careers where pedigree matters a l0t – the law, politics, some the performing and visual arts, and academia. Not a guarantee of success, but specific colleges do substantially boost your chance of success.
  • Major: The big secret of higher education is the difference between STEM majors, business majors, and everyone else. In general I urge people to study what they enjoy because you will get the college degree income boost in any case. But if income is important, focus on STEM or business/econ.

For college students:

  • People sort early into “tracks.” By the first year of college, most people will fall into a “party track” or a serious track. If you have any concern with professional school or completing in a timely fashion, don’t fall into the party track. It is hard to get out of.
  • Performance: The easiest way to do well in college is not to master the lecture notes, it is to study previous tests and papers.
  • Graduate school: Some jobs (e.g., medicine) require a post-graduate credential. Most jobs don’t. If you are wondering if you should go to graduate school, make sure you need the degree first.

For parents:

  • 529s, people. 529s.
  • Cost: With the exception of a few career tracks (e.g., academia), where you go to school doesn’t seem to have a big effect, although people do enjoy college more at small liberal arts institutions. So unless you have a lot of discretionary income, encourage children to go to public university. You’ll save the price of a house.
  • Students typically enroll in academically comparable schools that are close by. So, yes, a few ambitious kids will move cross country for school, but most won’t.

For policy makers:

  • Costs are out of control due to administrative growth and student services. The solution is to relieve colleges of administrative burdens and cut services and administrators.
  • Faculty salaries have been flat.
  • There is a massive increase in part time labor/adjuncts.
  • State support for higher education will never come back. Alternative income sources must be found.

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Written by fabiorojas

February 13, 2014 at 12:01 am

Posted in education, fabio

why intro is the most important course you may ever teach

Scatter has a great post on why we need to treat the Introduction to Sociology course with great importance by Nathan Palmer:

The 101 class is the public face of our discipline. Every year there are roughly a million students in the United States who take Soc 101, that is, if my publisher friends’ estimates are to be believed. For the overwhelming majority of Americans, 101 will be their only exposure to our discipline. Sure, they might hear about our research findings in the media, but chances are they’ll have no idea that it was a sociologist who produced the research.

…How do the faculty in your department think about 101? Is it something to be avoided like the plague? Is it a hazing ritual that you put newbs through so that senior faculty can get to teach their “real classes” (i.e. their upper division classes within their area of interest)?


First, it matters because the introductory classes serve as the on ramp to the major. As reported by in their forth coming book How College Works, Chambliss and Takacs find that,

Undergraduates are significantly more likely to major in a field if they have an inspiring and caring faculty member in their introduction to the field. And they are equally likely to write off a field based on a single negative experience with a professor.

Second, it matters because of Krulak’s law which posits, “The closer you get to the front, the more power you have over the brand.”[2] Put simply, if the 101 class is the frontline of sociology, then the 101 teacher is the ambassador for us all.

Read the whole thing.

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Written by fabiorojas

January 30, 2014 at 12:09 am

getting what we measure

Mikaila Mariel Lemonik Arthur is an Associate Professor of Sociology at Rhode Island College and is the author of Student Activism and Curricular Change in Higher Education. Her current research explores network effects on curricular change in higher education. Her primary teaching responsibilities include social research methods and law and society courses, and this spring she is teaching a new interdisciplinary upper-level general education course on higher education.

One of the hallmarks of modernity is the focus on rationality and efficiency in organizational function: organizations of all types, from hospitals to Fortune 500 corporations, from universities to small not-for-profits, seek to improve their performance in terms of measureable outcomes. But, as the aphorism goes, “What gets measured gets done, what gets measured and fed back gets done well, what gets rewarded gets repeated” (variously attributed to any number of management scholars). For example, pharmaceutical companies’ focus on stock prices, sales figures, and the next blockbuster drug has led to a focus on treatments for common, chronic conditions, such as the umpteenth heartburn medication, and less focus on the development of new antibiotics, a trend that may soon prove to have devastating effects on our attempts to control infections disease.

In higher education, a similar dynamic is occurring. In the past, colleges and universities were primarily measured (and funded) based on enrollments. This meant that encouraging more students to enroll, and keeping them enrolled in classes until after the third week (or whenever official enrollment statistics are due), was often the highest priority, and whether students ever graduated did not matter nearly as much. You get what you measure: students in seats.

More recently, the emphasis has shifted to retention and graduation as measureable outcomes. This change encouraged administrators to consider what was necessary to keep students in school and to improve time-to-degree, but it came with its own perverse incentives. For example, administrators turned to student evaluations as a way to increase student satisfaction; some colleges and universities discourage faculty from failing students because failures decrease graduation rates and increase dropout rates. This leads to colleges in which students can graduate with a 2.0, never having written a paper (a phenomenon discussed in recent books like Arum and Roksa’s Academically Adrift and Armstrong and Hamilton’s Paying for the Party). It also contributes to rampant grade inflation, including elite institutions where over half of all grades awarded are As (happy students=repeat customers). You get what you measure: grads with high grades.

A variety of colleges and universities have thus sought ways to curb grade inflation, such as providing average class grades on transcripts and setting strict grading curves. By encouraging tougher grading standards, these methods may indeed reduce the average GPA of enrolled students, but tougher grading standards do not necessarily translate into better educated graduates—and in any case, most colleges and universities have not chosen to enact these sorts of reforms. Indeed, the ease by which average grades can be manipulated highlights the fact that grades themselves may not be even an adequate proxy measure of student learning, and thus the assessment movement was born.

Today, accrediting agencies require colleges and universities to demonstrate that students meet measurable learning outcomes, and projects like the Lumina Foundation’s Degree Qualifications Profile encourage institutions and departments to clearly state the intended outcomes of their programs in measureable language. Some colleges and universities have gone further, developing competency-based degrees in which students supposedly demonstrate their skills rather than their seat time to graduate. At first blush, many critics argued that these programs are just another kind of teaching to the test. But teaching to the test is only a problem if the test is not actually able to test the desired learning outcomes—you get what you measure: results on the test.

It has already become clear to advocates of competency-based learning that competency is a pretty low floor, and instead they have begun to use the term “proficiency.” One goal of proficiency-based degree plans has been to shorten the time and cost of a degree, particularly by reducing Baumol’s cost disease by disrupting the relationship between seat time, faculty workload, and degree production. So far, competency- and proficiency-based programs are rare and likely appeal only to a particular self-selected group—but as Chambliss and Takacs point out in their forthcoming book How College Works, college only works if it works for all students, including the lazy, the unmotivated, and the perhaps not-so-smart.

So if we get what we measure and what gets rewarded gets repeated—and we measure proficiencies and reward completion—what do we get? Degrees as checklists? Students who cannot earn a college degree because, while they are excellent writers and have superb disciplinary knowledge, they cannot (in Lumina’s language) construct and define “a cultural, political, or technological alternative vision of either the natural or human world,” a key bachelor’s-level competency? An even more extreme bifurcation of the higher education field in which some colleges and universities develop rigorous proficiency measures and provide students with the supports necessary to excel while others assess writing, critical thinking, and speaking with machine- or peer-grading?

Or is it possible to build a system that measures proficiencies in a real, valuable way and which rewards completion without reducing the rigor of these proficiencies? In other words, can find a way to measure what we want to get instead of getting what we happen to have measured?

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Written by fabiorojas

January 29, 2014 at 12:01 am

free tuition is an unstable equilibrium

What do the Cooper Union and the University of California have in common? They both promised no tuition and have abandoned that. This leads to an interesting idea about higher education. My hypothesis is that free tuition is an “unstable equilibrium.” Once you get it going, it can be sustainable, since people exert great pressure to keep it that way. But once you charge tuition, it’s impossible to go back. For the University of California, it was the freedom to charge a “registration fee.” Originally meant to cover bureaucratic costs, it very quickly became de facto tuition. It was even litigated and the courts openly admitted it was de facto tuition but needed. The same for the Cooper Union, which is now just another private school with a hefty tuition, after nearly a century of being tuition free.

In a world where college is a certification for the labor market, and entry is restricted, you invite monopoly pricing by producers. In that world, any excuse you can provide that allows you to start charging tuition is the first step in extracting huge amounts of money from students and parents. And that is very hard to resist.

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Written by fabiorojas

January 18, 2014 at 12:04 am

the elite college premium, or my debate with shamus continues

Shamus and I have a long standing debate over the 2002 Dale/Krueger paper and whether it really does show that elite college premia are due to ability bias (e.g., kids who go to Harvard make more money because they are smarter/better connected/whatever, not because Harvard gives them any particular human capital). Via Econlog, I discovered thet D&K have a working paper, which bolsters this claim with newer analysis. From the abstract:

We find that the return to college selectivity is sizeable for both cohorts in regression models that  control for variables commonly observed by researchers, such as student high school GPA and SAT scores. However, when we adjust for unobserved student ability by controlling for the average SAT score of the colleges that students applied to, our estimates of the return to college selectivity fall substantially and are generally indistinguishable from zero. There were notable exceptions for certain subgroups. For black and Hispanic students and for students who come from less-educated families (in terms of their parents’ education), the estimates of the return to college selectivity remain large, even in models that adjust for unobserved student characteristics.

In other words, if going to Harvard causes you to get more income, the income associated with going to Harvard should remain unexplained when we control for sensible individual covariates. In the data, when you include data on school you applied to, which indicates how ambitious you are, the Harvard effect goes away, except for low-SES students. 

Bottom line: Elite college attendance is a marker of ambition. That’s important to know, but shouldn’t be conflated with a human capital effect, except for populations which don’t have wealth or social connections.

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Written by fabiorojas

December 27, 2013 at 12:01 am

Posted in economics, education, fabio

mean girls, part deux

“There’s a literature on everything.” – Tyler Cowen

Yup, it turns out that not only is there is a network analysis literature on mean girls, but it has been published in the ASR. I quote from an article by Bob Faris and Diane Felmlee called “Status Struggles: Network Centrality and Gender Segregation in Same- and Cross-Gender Aggression:”

Literature on aggression often suggests that individual deficiencies, such as social incompetence, psychological difficulties, or troublesome home environments, are responsible for aggressive behavior. In this article, by contrast, we examine aggression from a social network perspective, arguing that social network centrality, our primary measure of peer status, increases the capacity for aggression and that competition to gain or maintain status motivates its use. We test these arguments using a unique longitudinal dataset that enables separate consideration of same- and cross-gender aggression. We find that aggression is generally not a maladjusted reaction typical of the socially marginal; instead, aggression is intrinsic to status and escalates with increases in peer status until the pinnacle of the social hierarchy is attained. Over time, individuals at the very bottom and those at the very top of a hierarchy become the least aggressive youth. We also find that aggression is influenced not so much by individual gender differences as by relationships with the other gender and patterns of gender segregation at school. When cross-gender interactions are plentiful, aggression is diminished. Yet these factors are also jointly implicated in peer status: in schools where cross-gender interactions are rare, cross-gender friendships create status distinctions that magnify the consequences of network centrality.

Highly recommended.

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Written by fabiorojas

December 18, 2013 at 12:01 am

Posted in education, fabio, networks

hold on, why doesn’t MIT have a sociology department (or major)?

A few weeks ago, we all laughed when MIT was praised for its well known (but nonexistent) sociology department. But a serious question went unasked: why doesn’t MIT have a degree granting sociology unit? At first, you think the answer is obvious. MIT is an engineering and science school. We shouldn’t expect it to offer any sociology aside from a few courses for general education of engineering students.

But hold on! MIT offers lots of non-STEM degrees. For example, it has a highly regarded business school and an architecture school. Ok, you say, maybe it’ll offer nuts and bolts professional programs that are closely allied with STEM fields. Yet, that argument doesn’t hold water. MIT also allows students to major and/or concentrate in music. It’s also got well known PhD programs in humanities fields like philosophy, social sciences like political science and economics, and a sort of catch-all program that combines history, anthropology, and science studies. Heck, you can even get the ultimate fluffy major – creative writing.

It’s even more baffling when you realize that it is amazingly easy to create a BS or PhD degree focusing on the quantitative side of sociology (e.g., applied regression, networks, demography, stochastic process models, soc psych/experimental, survey analysis, simulation/agent based models, rational choice/game theory, etc.)

My hypothesis is that the typical MIT faculty or alumni relies on the reputation of sociology, not what the field is actually about. Like a lot of folks, the field is written off as a hopeless quagmire of post-modernism, even though, ironically, most sociologists are not post-modernists. The reality is that the field is a fairly traditional positivist scholarly area with normal, cumulative research. Even qualitative research is often presented in ways that most normal science types would recognize. It’s really too bad. Sociology could use a healthy dose of ideas from the hard sciences, and MIT could be the place where that could happen.

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Written by fabiorojas

November 13, 2013 at 12:01 am

mean girl sociology

In my undergraduate social network class, I tried to explain how social network analysis could be used to identify a certain “type” of person. I often use high schools as an example. One could ask students to identify friends and then use that data to map groups, cliques, and the like. At one point in the discussion, I then said, “for example, we could use network data to discover the most popular people, the MEAN GIRLS.” I then asked, “how would we discover mean girls?”

In our discussion, I think we settled on the following:

  • Mean girls would have high centrality scores.
  • With asymmetrical friendship network data, mean girls would not reciprocate.
  • If people rated the content of the network tie, mean girls would receive a lot positives but send out negatives.
  • Mean girls would cluster, or have structurally equivalent roles.

A student asked, “Fabio, were you a mean girl in high school?”

I said, “probably not, I was very shy and I rarely taunted kids or got in fights. In some ways, though, I am a mean nerd.”

The student responded, “Fabio, you are definitely a mean nerd. I read what you wrote about the critical realists.”


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Written by fabiorojas

October 15, 2013 at 12:01 am

Posted in education, fabio, networks

education and economic growth: a mokyrian perspective

In the spring, I wrote a series of posts about Joel Mokyr’s The Enlightened Economy, which argues that industrialization was precipitated by cultural change in the UK. This final (?) post on Mokyr’s book extracts some of Mokyr’s observations about education and contrasts them with a popular theory of the education/growth link.

First, what are some standard stories of the education/growth correlation?

  • By-product: The by-product thesis says that you first get growth, due to technical or institutional change, then people are wealthy enough to invest in education.
  • Average worker productivity: The standard story in the media (and among social scientists) is that education increases the average productivity of workers, which lead to growth. Education is an across the board “upgrade” in the economy.

What is the alternative? Well, Mokyr’s history suggests an alternative:

  • Elite reformation: Education mainly changes elites in two important ways that lead to economic growth. First, education shows innovators (the technical elite) the idea of translating abstract knowledge into concrete application. It also provides a common stock of knowledge (e.g., we all know chemistry or law). Second, education of political elites might make them more tolerant of wealth accumulation by innovators. Science and engineering are no longer threats to be punished through force or tax.

This Mokyrian theory is motivated by the observation that the UK saw massive economic growth with an almost illiterate population. Mokyr’s (implicit) elite reformation theory has a number of attractive features. It doesn’t require a massive re-education of the population before growth in the historical record. Second, it provides a concrete mechanism linking cultural change to institutional change (ie., the ideas get broadcast in educational institutions that elites tend to hang out at, like Oxbridge in the UK). Third, it explains why having an educated technical elite is not enough for growth, which explains why some nations with strong technical elites but misguided political elites remain mired in poverty (e.g., India). Finally, elite reformation theory doesn’t require you to explain why it is that sending the masses to trigonometry class – which they will promptly forget – makes them more productive.

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Written by fabiorojas

September 23, 2013 at 12:01 am

Posted in economics, education, fabio

collett’s impostor research

Jessica Collett, scatterista and social psychologist supreme, has a thoughtful post summarizing her recent research on “impostor syndrome” among academics. If you aren’t familiar with the idea, it means that people feel like they are fakes and subsequently curtail their ambitions or work. From her post at Scatterplot:

At this year’s ASA meetings in NYCJade Avelis and I presented research on the effect of impostorism (also known as the impostor syndrome or feelings of fraudulence) on academic career ambitions. We were specifically interested in impostorism as a potential causes of “downshifting”* (entering graduate school programs aspiring to a tenure track position at a research institution and changing during the course of study to a non-tenure track position or one with an emphasis on teaching), a trend almost twice as common among women as it is among men.

In the literature to date, researchers attribute higher rates of downshifting among women to their increased concerns about family friendliness compared to men. Drawing on qualitative and quantitative days from PhD students at a private, research institution in the Midwest, Jade and I test both this common explanation and an impostorism account. As reported today in Science Careers, over at the website for Science, we found trends consistent with previous research. Women were more likely to suffer from impostorism, more concerned about family friendliness, and more likely to downshift during graduate school than men were.  However, we also found that women’s increased concerns about family friendliness did not explain their increased likelihood to downshift. Impostorism, on the other hand, played a significant role.

This is crucial research for anyone interested in gender disparities in the academy. Jessica has a concrete suggestion at the end – that imposterism might be combated by changing the atmosphere within PhD programs. Knowing that other people have anxiety is a nice way to help people overcome it. Fabio’s suggestion: RCT where some programs implement an anti-imposterism program for 1st years, then we follow up every few years to see if it made a difference.

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Written by fabiorojas

September 12, 2013 at 12:04 am

Posted in academia, education, fabio

should we be happy or unhappy that adjuncts teach well?

There’s a recent study by researchers at Northwestern showing that part time instructors do better than tenured full timers. A few clips from an Inside Higher Ed piece addressing the issue:

A major new study has found that new students at Northwestern University learn more when their instructors are adjuncts than when they are tenure-track professors.

The study — released this morning by the National Bureau of Economic Research (abstract available here) — found that the gains are greatest for the students with the weakest academic preparation. And the study found that the gains extended across a wide range of disciplines. The authors of the study suggest that by looking at measures of student learning, and not just course or program completion, their work may provide a significant advance in understanding the impact of non-tenure-track instructors.

It shouldn’t be surprising that this might be true. Adjuncts are teaching specialists. While tenure track faculty do many things. What is interesting is the policy implication: maybe the increase in adjuncting is good from a student perspective. You get many more chances to work with someone who only does teaching. The down side is that providing this service is cheap and thus creates a downward pressure on wages. And considering the extremely high cost of getting into the academic labor forces, that’s a raw deal.
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Written by fabiorojas

September 11, 2013 at 12:05 am

the massive shift in the academic labor market: the rise of part timers


Let’s follow up on Brayden’s post on higher education, which focused on alleged problems in higher education. There is one issue that nearly all observers agree is large and important – the massive shift to part time faculty. This has two consequences. First, it means that the average wage and compensation package for faculty is, on the average, shrinking. Second, it means that there are fewer and fewer stable tenure track jobs waiting for graduate students. This nice post illustrates the trend. It is taken from this article from The Society Pages.

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Written by fabiorojas

September 9, 2013 at 4:04 am

Posted in education, fabio

lifting the crimson curtain: Manufacturing Morals: The Values of Silence in Business School Education

As a grad student, I always found crossing the bridge over the Charles River from Harvard University to the Harvard Business School (HBS) to be a bit like approaching Emerald (or more appropriately, Crimson) City. On the Allston side, the buildings seemed shinier (or, as shiny as New England vernacular architecture allows), and the grounds were undergoing constant replantings, thanks to a well-heeled donor. In addition, HBS has loomed large as an institution central to the dissemination of organizational theory and management practices, including Elton Mayo’s human relations.

HBS has certain peculiarities about teaching and learning, like the use of case studies which follow formulaic structures as the basis for directed class discussion.* Moreover, instructors follow a strict grading break-down: mandatory “III”s assigned to the lowest-performing students of classes – a source of concern, as students with too many IIIs must justify their performance before a board and possibly go on leave.** To help instructors with grading, hired scribes document student discussion comments.***

Such conditions raise questions about the links, as well as disconnects, between classroom and managerial leadership, so I was delighted to see a new ethnography about business school teaching at the UChicago Press book display at ASAs.

With his latest book, Michel Anteby lifts the crimson curtain from HBS with his new book Manufacturing Morals: The Values of Silence in Business School Education (University of Chicago Press, 2013).


Here’s the official blurb:
“Corporate accountability is never far from the front page, and as one of the world’s most elite business schools, Harvard Business School trains many of the future leaders of Fortune 500 companies.  But how does HBS formally and informally ensure faculty and students embrace proper business standards? Relying on his first-hand experience as a Harvard Business School faculty member, Michel Anteby takes readers inside HBS in order to draw vivid parallels between the socialization of faculty and of students.

In an era when many organizations are focused on principles of responsibility, Harvard Business School has long tried to promote better business standards. Anteby’s rich account reveals the surprising role of silence and ambiguity in HBS’s process of codifying morals and business values. As Anteby describes, at HBS specifics are often left unspoken; for example, teaching notes given to faculty provide much guidance on how to teach but are largely silent on what to teach. Manufacturing Morals demonstrates how faculty and students are exposed to a system that operates on open-ended directives that require significant decision-making on the part of those involved, with little overt guidance from the hierarchy. Anteby suggests that this model-which tolerates moral complexity-is perhaps one of the few that can adapt and endure over time.”

Check it out! And while you’re at it, have a look at Anteby’s previous book, Moral Gray Zones (2008, Princeton University Press).

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by katherinechen

August 27, 2013 at 10:43 pm

book spotlight: playing to win by hilary levey friedman


Guest blogger emeritus Hilary Levey Friedman has just released her new book, Playing to Win, which is a thoughtful account of competitive children’s activities. Drawing from fieldwork done in three competitive youth circuits (chess, dance, soccer), Hilary provides us with an engaging treatment of the topic. She raises important questions about how we’ve reshaped childhood in response to the growing importance of higher education for young adults.

The core strength of the book is that it successfully explains how two organizational fields – higher education and children’s leisure – collide. Since colleges are the “key” for mobility, we recreate childhood in ways that reproduce status via college entrance. Thus, the book is an extension of Bourdieu’s approach to stratification, as expressed through Lareau and her school. This attempt at social reproduction is seen when parents strategize about how much effort to expend and how these activities teach the right life lessons. And, of course, as with all good ethnography, there are lots of juicy bits, such as the discussion of female chess players, which is a great discussion of counter-signalling theory in childhood.

The biggest question I had when reading the book is “does it matter?” In the final chapter, Hilary alludes to arguments made by Dalton Conley (and myself, by the way) that the specific school doesn’t matter much.  In other words, if it doesn’t matter which college you go to, then why should you torture your kid with violin lessons so he’s get into Yale?

Even if I’m wrong, and there is an Ivy League treatment effect, it’s still puzzling. Higher education researchers know that only about 50 colleges in the United States are hard to get into (consistent admit rates below 50%). About 18  million people a year enroll in college, but very competitive schools like the Ivies and the public flagships account for a small fraction of that number. Being a chess champ may be helpful for the smartest kids who have a shot at an elite school but this whole scene is irrelevant for most people who are trying to get into college.

My guess is that parents probably know, on some level, that these activities usually have marginal effects on admission when compared to GPA or SATs, but they still want to show that they are invested in their children. And of course, many of this activities are enjoyable. So in many cases, no harm no foul. If you buy this argument, you can skip soccer camp with a clean conscience.

Overall, great job and a pleasure to read. Recommended!

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Written by fabiorojas

August 26, 2013 at 12:11 am

excellent librarian video

Written by fabiorojas

August 24, 2013 at 12:01 am

overlearning and college education

One of my beliefs, born out by research like Arum and Roska’s, is that people don’t learn or retain much from college. There are many reasons why, but one is that colleges don’t believe in “overlearning,” which means that you study a topic so much that it becomes automatic.

Consider the typical college class. They meet two or three times a week. Students either skip the readings, skim them, or quickly forget them. Unless it’s part of the grade, students are often absent from class. The exams typically cover the material, but then you move on to new stuff. Many students are allowed to move on with marginal grades. The opposite of “overlearning.” Colleges offer “barelylearning.”

If colleges were serious about learning, the entire system of lectures and semesters would be dumped. Occasional passive lectures and marginal grades would be abolished. Instead, we’d probably have very short “modules” where students did nothing but math, or writing, all day, every day for a few weeks or a months. Complete immersion so people could get completely absorbed into the subject and learn it so it becomes second hand. It’s the way that learning is done in institutions where mastery matters, like medical schools (e.g., rotations) or the military (e.g., the system of “special schools” – immersion).

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Written by fabiorojas

August 23, 2013 at 12:10 am

Posted in academia, education, fabio

asian american colleges – it’s religion, stupid!

Final round of discussion on Asian American colleges. As I mentioned last time, I was not persuaded by the argument that Asian Americans had such a unique historical trajectory that no Asian American colleges were created. It’s an ad hoc argument, and not well supported by comparisons (e.g., lots of small groups had colleges; the population vastly expanded; etc).

But I did come to a new, consistent approach to the question. It starts with a question: why do colleges get created at all? Here are the answers:

  • Religion
  • State building
  • Profit
  • Technical preservation/development (think of all the institutes of technology/polytechnics)
  • Professional training

You’ll notice that the extant Asian American colleges (a few small Korean schools and Hindu University) are religious. Then, since Asians have relatively weak political power in the US, the state building side of things isn’t in play. Finally, professional schools, for-profit institutions and technical institutes rarely cater to students on ethnic terms. In the end, I’d just point out that (a) the religious views of Asian Americans weren’t developed in ways that encouraged college building and (b) other religious groups, like the White philanthropists who bankrolled HBCs, didn’t frame Asians as a social problem to be solved.

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Written by fabiorojas

August 5, 2013 at 4:24 am

Posted in education, fabio

asian american colleges, part deux

Last week, I asked: why are there no Asian American colleges, in the same way we have tribal colleges or HBCUs? A few observations:

  • There are Asian serving campuses, such as the UC’s in California. But this is not part of their mission or organizational identity.
  • There are a few Christian colleges that serve mainly Koreans, but, once again, the mission is religious, not ethnic.
  • Most comments focused on the fact that Asian migrants did not have precisely the same sort of exclusion from the mainstream as African Americans or Native Americans.

These are informative comments, and I think the general thrust is correct. But that would suggest a *low* number of such institutions compared to the population, not zero (!). For example, I noted in the comments that Jews had a relatively similar position – voluntary migration; initial exclusion/limited entrance to higher ed; opening up post-1960s; and so forth. But there are a notable number of Jewish oriented institutions.

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Written by fabiorojas

July 24, 2013 at 12:03 am

Posted in education, fabio

what do sociology majors do?

According to Neal Caren, the most common employment outcomes:

Social workers (9%), elementary and middle school teachers (6%), counselors (4%), managers, all other (4%), lawyers (3%), secretaries and administrative assistants (2%), postsecondary teachers (2%), police and sheriff’s patrol officers (2%), human resources workers (2%), first-line supervisors of office and administrative support workers (2%), social and community service managers (2%), sales representatives, wholesale and manufacturing (2%), and education administrators (2%).

Summary: a lot of “helping” jobs and generic management/sales/retail. Also, check out the graph mapping major to jobs. Nice.

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Written by fabiorojas

July 20, 2013 at 12:31 am

Posted in education, fabio, sociology

why are there no asian american colleges?

Puzzle for higher ed folks and organizational theory types: If you look at US higher education, you’ll notice that there are institutions that serve nearly every niche. Rich students , poor students, historically black colleges, tribal colleges, Biblical colleges, Hispanic students, etc. Heck, even the transcendental meditation movement has an accredited school – Mahavishnu University in Iowa.

But I really had a hard time trying to think of a college that was aimed primarily at Asian Americans. Why is that? Did I overlook something? If not, what is it that prevents such a college from existing? According to wiki, there are roughly 18 million Asian Americans. You’d think that at least a few schools would be aimed at them. If nothing else, perhaps an old liberal arts college in Oakland founded in the early 20th century, aimed at helping Asian Americans get jobs, in a way analogous to the HBC’s like the Tuskegee Institute that helped freedmen and their descendants.


  • Cultural – perhaps attitudes toward education somehow make the concept of such an institution seem odd and out of place.
  • Density – outside of the West Coast, maybe they simply weren’t present in large enough number to justify such an institution
  • Cultural heterogeneity – “Asian American” is a catch all label, there’s a lot of groups and no cohesion needed to pull a college together
  • Satisfaction – Maybe Asian Americans simply are satisfied with American institutions
  • Vintage – since the bulk of Asian America is post-1965, they simply haven’t had the time to create such an institution.

Other ideas?

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Written by fabiorojas

July 16, 2013 at 12:08 am

book spotlight: why are professors liberal and why do conservatives care?


Neil Gross cements his position as the leading sociologist of American intellectuals with his new book Why are Professors Liberal and Why do Conservatives Care?*  This book collects into one text a series of arguments about the American professoriate that Gross and his collaborators have presented in a series of articles. Essentially, Gross argues that American academia, on the average, is liberal because of self-selection on the part of conservatives. The specific issue is that academia, for a number of historically specific reasons, has acquired an aura of extreme liberalism. Thus, conservative students say “Why bother? Academia is for liberals. What’s the point?”

What is impressive about Gross and his confederates is that they test all kinds of alternative hypotheses. For example, one might think that academic skills explain conservatives lower enrollments in PhD programs. But it doesn’t. Differences in values don’t explain much either. In other words, Gross et al systematically test all kinds of hypotheses and show that they are simply not true or that they only explain a small proportion of the differences between conservatives and others.

Eventually, using historical evidence and interview data, Gross makes a good case for self-selection. Sociology is a good example. In principle, there’s lots of places for non-liberal sociologists. For example, one could work on non-ideological aspects of sociology, like research methods. Or, as many conservatives have done, they could work in areas of interest like family sociology, where in some cases (like studies of negative divorce effects on kids), they could work on topics that are consistent with their ideology. But if you sit down and ask a typical conservative undergrad why they didn’t take many soc courses, they’ll tell you an image of evil ultra-liberals who are bent on political correctness.

Now, where I would criticize this book is the study of conservatives. For example, Gross argues that there isn’t much evidence of bias against conservatives. He uses the example of a study he conducted with Jeremy Fresse and Ethan Fosse where they contacted graduate directors with email from fake students. Some emails mentioned working for a GOP candidate, some a Democrat, and other none at all. Gross et al find no differences in how graduate directors responded.

First, there’s the issue, which Gross acknowledges, that graduate directors probably write a lot of boiler plate emails. But there’s a deeper criticism – why didn’t Gross interview people at risk for discrimination from liberal colleagues? For example, why not interview liberal (Keynesian) and conservative economists (monetarists or Austrians)? Or, why not interview Rawlsian philosophers (liberals) and compare their careers with Nozickians (libertarians) or Burkeans (conservatives)? Or, even better, why not collect materials from people who submitted books or articles on conservative topics but were rejected?

I think that Gross is right – anti-conservative bias is not nearly as bad as people think, if it exists at all – but the treatment of conservatives is not nearly as nuanced as the treatment of liberals. This probably speaks to the development of the project, which started with analyzing massive data (like the GSS) that trues to tease out conservative/liberal differences. Developing a theory or map of conservative intellectuals probably came late in the game.

Regardless, this book is massive progress on a central issue in the study of American intellectuals and the academy. This will be required reading for anyone interested in this topic.

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* And I’m not saying that because he said nice things about me in the book. But he did. Oh yeah, and I’m not just saying it because he edited another cool  forthcoming book about academia with a chapter by moi. But he did. Ok, maybe he buttered up a little. But just a little!

Written by fabiorojas

June 25, 2013 at 12:07 am

we need standardized dissertations

One of the problems of graduate education in many fields is that the requirements for the dissertation are vague. Another issue is that the dissertation is a book length treatment, even in fields where articles are standard. This leads students spend years writing overly long documents that have little value. For that reason, I encourage all my students to use the “three essays” format as the default. It’s simple, it works, and they’ll get done. If they have a good reason for deviating, then we can talk about it. But most folks should really stick to “three essays.”

There is now more systematic research showing that this advice is correct. A recent AER paper authored by Wendy Stock and John Siegfried shows that economists who use the “three essays” format do better in terms of academic job placement and subsequent publication. The abstract says it all:

Dissertations in economics have changed dramatically over the past forty years, from primarily treatise-length books to sets of essays on related topics. We document trends in essay-style dissertations across several metrics, using data on dissertation format, PhD program characteristics, demographics, job market outcomes, and early career research productivity for two large samples of US PhDs graduating in 1996-1997 or 2001-2002. Students at higher ranked PhD programs, citizens outside the United States, and microeconomics students have been at the forefront of this trend. Economics PhD graduates who take jobs as academics are more likely to have written essay-style dissertations, while those who take government jobs are more likely to have written a treatise. Finally, most of the evidence suggests that essay-style dissertations enhance economists’ early career research productivity.

My take home message? We should drop the pretense of the sprawling dissertation. All departments should require or strongly encourage the three essay format as the default. If the student wants something else, they need to make the argument.

Hat tip to our evil twin, Organizations and Markets.

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Written by fabiorojas

May 29, 2013 at 3:35 am

coaches are the highest paid state employees


Deadspin provides this illustration of the highest paid state employees. It says something when a public institutions gives more support for collegiate sports than other functions. That’s why I advocate a separation of sport and school.

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Written by fabiorojas

May 16, 2013 at 12:53 am

restructuring in higher education, australian edition

Guy Tuchman has an article in Inside Higher Education that discusses big budget cuts in Australia:

Several processes are occurring simultaneously. Departments are being lumped together to form new constellations of schools and faculties. (In Australian academic parlance, schools are a bureaucratic unit composed of disciplines or programs. A faculty consists of a collection of schools.) But, my newly met colleagues insisted, restructuring is not about encouraging interdisciplinarity or intellectual cross-fertilization by increasing the administrative proximity of related fields of inquiry.

Rather, I was told, central administrators have been combining units as universities pare down the number of schools and faculties they harbor to extirpate unnecessary courses, eliminate “redundant” workers, and increase what the Aussies, like the British, call “casualization” and Americans term “contingent labor.” As in the United States, such practices are more likely to be applied to the arts, humanities and social sciences rather than to the STEM fields — science, technology, engineering, mathematics — which supposedly promise to raise needed income through contracts, grants, and inventions and to goose the region’s and the nation’s ability to succeed in international economic competition.

Tuchman is also the author of Wannabe U, a new book on change in higher education from Chicago.
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Written by fabiorojas

May 13, 2013 at 12:14 am

Posted in education, fabio

tips for teaching business undergraduates

I occasionally teach a course aimed at business undergraduates. It’s a work/occupations/orgs course that uses various economic examples to discuss sociological ideas. The issue for me is that I often get torched in the evaluations. In my other classes, my evaluations range from the department average to very high. But hitting the department average is real accomplishment for this course. I’ve heard the same from some other instructors in the department. They do well with sociology students, but the identical course will get much lower scores when it is taught to business students.

So I ask my brothers and sisters in management: What would you advise the instructor of business students? In the past, I’ve added discussion, taken it away, added/subtracted readings, added/taken away group projects, provided my slides online, etc. How else can I experiment with this course?

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Written by fabiorojas

May 11, 2013 at 4:38 pm

valdedictorians and class background

The Chronicle of Higher Education features a study of valedictorians and finds that class background affects where they apply to college:

Poorer students remain underrepresented at America’s top colleges, research has shown. And their academic preparation isn’t the only reason, according to Radford’s study of valedictorians, who should be considered well-prepared.

“Less-affluent valedictorians were less likely to know someone who had enrolled in a most selective institution and thus had a harder time envisioning their own attendance,” Radford wrote in a summary of her research.

The theme of the research association’s meeting this year was “Education and Poverty.” And Radford was among many who presented research on class inequity in higher education, which academics say remains deeply problematic at most colleges. Her study comes at a time of increased focus on how, despite plenty of outreach efforts, much of the talent at low-income high schools isn’t getting recruited to top colleges.

Radford worked with data from the High School Valedictorian Project, a survey of 900 class valedictorians who graduated from public high schools between 2003 and 2006. She also drew from 55 in-depth interviews with the students. The University of Chicago Press soon will publish a book by Radford on her findings.

This is probably one of the key findings of recent stratificiation research. Class doesn’t affect life course only through material resources, but by changing the habitus.

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Written by fabiorojas

May 5, 2013 at 2:18 am

academia and inequality

I am one of those people who thinks that we should not encourage people to enter the academic profession unless they are extremely committed to scholarship and they show exceptional promise. This advice often triggers a reaction that is summarized as: “You are evil! You want to exclude poor people/minorities/women/others from academia!”

My response: encouraging an expansion of graduate education does not address most aspects of inequality and might make it worse in many cases. For example, there is a large scale gap between whites and blacks in terms of education, income, and wealth. Sending people to graduate school will not address this gap. There are many reasons: lots of people don’t finish the degree; huge opportunity costs; low paid adjunct work after graduation; accumulation of burdensome of debt; and the tenure track pays modestly compared to other professionals with similar qualifications. These trends suppress mobility.

In contrast, there lots of other professions that are much more likely to lead to good income and mobility. If we want to genuinely shrink the income gap between people of color and whites, for example, we are much wiser to encourage engineering and health science careers. You’ll get the degree in a few years and almost immediately jump higher in the income distribution. Way, way, way easier than going for that anthropology  PhD and hoping for a tenure track job 12 years later.

If we want to address inequality within academia (ie., increasing representation on the faculty), we should reserve our efforts for getting people through the PhD pipeline and into jobs. We shouldn’t cram more graduate students into the pipeline. We should actually ask the logical question: What can we do to ensure that students acquire the right skills in academia? How can we make sure that they develop the right networks, that lead to publication in the “right” journals, and thus lead to the “right” jobs?

Sadly, very little effort goes into this side of things. It’s easier to count minorities and women and yell, “not fair! we need more!” It’s much harder to confront tenured faculty (like myself), and say: “Why haven’t you co-authored with women (or minorities) so that they may have a shot at a good tenure track job?” Let’s put the brakes on enrolling more students into doctoral programs and take up the less glamorous, but more important task, of making sure that the ones in the system will actually have the best careers possible.

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Written by fabiorojas

May 2, 2013 at 12:02 am

do we need college for industrialization? – a comment on mokyr’s history of industrial age britain

I’ve recently finished Joel Mokyr’s The Englightened Economy, an economic history of Britain during the industrial revolution. The book is an exhaustive argument about the role of Enlightenment ideas on economic development. I won’t go into detail here, but   I’ll summarize it by merely saying that the book is a thorough review of the literature on Britain through the eyes of economists and historians.

Today, I want to make a comment on an observation of Mokyr. In his review of research in higher education during British industrialization, he notes the following:

  • Higher education was very rare
  • Innovators and industrial leaders were mostly uneducated
  • Individuals with elite education (e.g., Oxbridge) were fairly rare among the ranks of the industrial leadership

Mokyr raises this point in service of the argument that Britain’s economic expansion can’t be attributed to rising quality of education since most people were not well educated until well after the industrial revolution. My point: This is somewhat analogous to economic expansion today. Leading Silicon Valley firms aren’t always, or even usually built, from people who have advanced degrees. I can think of only one such major firm (Google). Microsoft, Facebook, and Apple were founded by college drop outs, albeit elite drop outs. Groupon was founded by a policy school grad school drop out (not computer science). Twitter’s founder was a computer geek in high school but went to un-glamorous Missouri Tech, then later went to NYU, not known as a computer science hub.

The conclusion: You need an educated work force to carry out ideas, but the leadership doesn’t need a lot of education. Rapid economic expansion seems to hinge on having a mix of smart people who get their “training” from a wide variety of sources, not just college. Colleges are more about educating the masses who compose the rest of the organization.

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Written by fabiorojas

March 13, 2013 at 12:27 am

book spotlight: becoming right by amy j binder and kate wood

binder bookBecoming Right: How Campuses Shape Young Conservatives, by Amy Binder and Kate Wood, is the latest entry into the growing scholarship on conservative politics in America. They ask a simple question: how do campus environments shape conservative political styles? This is an important question for two reasons. First, there is relatively little research on conservative students. Second, culture depends on organizational environment. How ideas are expressed is affected by where ideas are expressed. Definitely a worthy question for a sociologists.

So what do Binder and Wood discover? They focus on two campuses for their case study – big public West Coast and fancy private East Coast. They choose these campuses because thay have similar high achieving student bodies but the environments are way, way different. West Coast is a huge “multiversity” to use Clark Kerr’s terminology. East Coast is smaller and more intimate. The same type of students tend to be attracted to campus conservative politics (mainly white, fairly comfortable folks) but the environments encourage different expressions.

You might say that there are two habituses at work – the provocateur and the intellectual. In a big impersonal campus, it is very, very hard to project your voice except in a confrontational manner. Thus, West Coast conservative students rely on sensational tactics, like the affirmative action bake sale. Also, West Coast students feel little attachment to the community. Little is lost by being aggressive. In contrast, East Coast encourages all students to feel as if they have a place, even if they admit that most professors are fairly liberal. They don’t feel alienated or embattled, so they feel little hostility toward the campus. Thus, they resort to more intellectual forms of expression that don’t rely on shocking people. The book also has a nice discussion of the larger field of conservative politics and how that affects campus protest.

Overall, a solid book and one that’s essential to studies of campus politics. If I were to criticize the book, I think I’d think a little more about the differences between conservative students and the broader field of conservative intellectuals. This does get mentioned in a few passages that allude to Steve Teles’ book on conservarive legal academia, which we discussed in detail on this blog. The issue is that the world of conservative intellectuals that have influence is more defined by the East Coast intellectual types than the affirmative action shock jocks at West Coast. The consequences are important as we’ve seen with the Tea Party mobilization. Conservative grass roots politics is now dominated by shock jocks, not the well coiffed policy wonks of the Heritage Foundation. More needs to be said about the boundary and links between campus conservatives and this broader network of think thanks, interest groups, and electoral organizations.

The last comment I’ll make is about the inherent irony of much of this stuff. It can be argued that conservative politics at its best is incremental, stodgy, and resistant to radicalism – that it is essentially bourgeois. It retains the hard won lessons of tradition and skepticism of utopia. Then there is some irony that the cultural style of contemporary conservatives is at odds with this ideal. It is loud and obnoxious. It mocks one of society’s most ancient and enduring institutions, the university system, which has nurtured Western culture since the end of the Middle ages. It is skeptical and hostile toward those who are cultured and knowledge. It can’t disentangle potentially insightful criticisms of specific intellectual currents from a loathing of the academic system itself. Perhaps the ultimat lesson is that beneath the talk of tradition and values, there is a rank populism that leaves one ultimately disappointed.

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Written by fabiorojas

March 6, 2013 at 12:03 am

use twitter, make money fa$t

My colleague at Indiana University, Johan Bollen has patented an algorithm that allows him to link Twitter traffic to stock price fluctuations. Click on the link for the TV news item. A clip from the report:

An IU professor and researcher just received a patent for software that crunches hundreds of millions of tweets, to predict where the stock market is headed…

Think of this way: The thoughts of two or three million people probably don’t add up to much, but if you multiply that by tens or hundreds of millions of people, then you may have something.

“We find that when people get more anxious, then there is a great likelihood of the market dropping 3-4 days later and vice versa,” Bollen said.

Definitely check it out.

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Written by fabiorojas

March 3, 2013 at 12:03 am

Posted in education, fabio, networks

hatin’ on teach for america

Andrew Hartman pens a highly critical review of Teach for America. Some clips:

The original TFA mission was based on a set of four somewhat noble if paternalistic rationales. First, by bringing the elite into the teaching profession, even if temporarily, TFA would burnish it with a much-needed “aura of status and selectivity.” Second, by supplying its recruits to impoverished school districts, both urban and rural, TFA would compensate for the lack of quality teachers willing to work in such challenging settings. And third, although Kopp recognized that most corps members would not remain classroom teachers beyond their two-year commitments, she believed that TFA alums would form the nucleus of a new movement of educational leaders—that their transformative experiences teaching poor children would mold their ambitious career trajectories. Above these three foundational principles loomed a fourth: the mission to relegate educational inequality to the ash heap of history.

TFA goals derive, in theory, from laudable—if misguided—impulses. But each, in practice, has demonstrated to be deeply problematic.


Putting TFA forward to solve the problems of the teaching profession has turned out poorly. But the third premise for Kopp’s national teacher corps—that it would “create a leadership force for long-term change” in how the nation’s least privileged students are schooled—has been the most destructive. Such destructiveness is directly related to Kopp’s success in attaching TFA to the education reform movement. In this, Kopp’s timing could not have been more fortuitous. When TFA was founded, the education reform movement was beginning to make serious headway in policy-making circles. This movement had been in the works since as far back as the notorious Coleman Report, a massive 1966 government study written by sociologist James Coleman, officially titled “Equality of Educational Opportunity.” Coleman contended that school funding had little bearing on educational achievement and, thus, efforts to achieve resource “equity” were wasteful. The Coleman Report became a touchstone for those who argued that pushing for educational “excellence,” measurable by standardized tests, was the best method to improve schools and hold teachers accountable. Chester Finn, an influential conservative policy analyst who worked in the Reagan Department of Education, put his finger on the educational pulse of our age when he wrote that “holding schools”—and teachers—“to account for their students’ academic achievement” was the only educational policy that made sense in a “post-Coleman” world.

Definitely worth reading for students of school reform.

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Written by fabiorojas

March 1, 2013 at 12:01 am

Posted in education, fabio

still too much college, again

In the past, I have argued that it is erroneous to assume that all people must go to college. Some people don’t have the academic or emotional capacity for higher education. Many don’t learn much when they do go to college. Still others spend years getting degrees as a labor market signal. Individually rational, but not efficient. College is definitely good for *some* people, but not everyone.

Now, Paul Campos, a Colorado law prof, gives a succinct economic argument against the over-investment in college. I quote at length from his discussion of legal education:

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by fabiorojas

February 16, 2013 at 12:35 am

Posted in economics, education, fabio

the africana boycott of amy gutmann at penn

Last week, a group of Africana faculty at Penn wrote a column called “Guess Who’s (Not) Coming to Dinner?” The issue is that Penn’s administration has not appointed a person of color to an administrative position in a long time. They will no longer attend diversity events sponsored by Penn President Amy Gutmann:

With the term for the dean of the School of Arts and Sciences soon ending and the newly appointed provost on hand, President Gutmann was asked during a heated exchange why she has never appointed a person of color to the position of dean during her long tenure at Penn.

Her response was that she would not just bring in someone who is not qualified, a comment implying that none of the people in the room were qualified to serve in these positions, even though many of them serve in administrative capacities in departments and centers. In her closing remarks, President Gutmann reiterated her dedication to diversity within Penn’s administration, admitting that “a show beats a tell.”

A few comments: I think the Penn Africana faculty have a good point. Leadership is built on networks. If you know anything about academia, most folks reach positions of leadership because they have been helped by colleagues. The fact that either (a) people of color did not apply for deanships or (b) people of color do not have the track record speaks to the fact that people around Penn have simply not reached out to faculty of color.  People need to know that will be seriously considered if they apply. Similarly, people need to be considered for “starter” administrative jobs, like center director positions or department chairs. These don’t just appear and they often aren’t announced. You need the networks to make it happen. The fact that Penn has let this slide for this long speaks for itself.

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Written by fabiorojas

February 8, 2013 at 12:38 am

Posted in academia, education, fabio


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