Sunday, October 21, 2018

What makes a "good" school?

Before answering the question above, one has to define what a good school is.  And that's surprisingly easy.  The basic definition is that the pupils do well in the annual state-wide exams.  Many people, however, will poo-pooh that definition, and say that things like cultural awareness, personal development and social responsibility are the defining qualities.  But, as it happens, all those things tend to covary. 

A school with good exam results will tend also to facilitate more exposure to the arts and offer many options for activities that are not strictly academic, such as good sporting facilities being available, with  sport being seen as character building.  Charitable work will also usually be encouraged.  So it is clear why people speak as if there were schools which are simply "good" across the board.  There really are such schools.

But how do you arrive at that?  Having good teachers and fine buildings can help to a degree, as can extensive parental involvement.  But how do you arrange that? Do good teachers and fine buildings just drop out of the sky?  What is the starting point that brings all those things together?  It is something that really runs across the grain for Leftists, with their comical belief that all men are equal:  It is good students that make a good school. 

If the students are orderly and attentive they will get good exam results and most teachers would like to teach there -- so the school will have its pick of the best available teachers.  And the best teachers will be best at treating the students as individuals and encouraging them in their own particular interests and abilities. So the school will be a safe and rewarding place for all.

So the next question is:  How do you get good students for a school?  How do you find orderly and attentive students who reward the efforts made by teachers to develop them in various ways?

In the end there is only one way to arrange that.  You have to have selective admissions.  But selective admissions are seen as obnoxious by many.  All men are equal, don't you know?  So we need a system that delivers selective admissions without appearing to do so.

There is such a system:  You find a locality where the good students tend to congregate naturally and locate your school there. So where do you find such a locality?  Easy.  You find the localities where the rich live. 

There will of course be exceptions but much research has shown that the rich tend to be brighter.  Life has selected them for above average intelligence, and intelligence is mainly genetically transmitted, so their kids will be brighter too. And, again as all the research shows, an amazing range of advantageous characteristics tend to be associated with high IQ.  Your "good" students will almost all be students of above average IQ.  So a good "non-selective" school will in most cases be a school located in a high income suburb.

And that brings us to the article below in which the writer has got the cart totally before the horse. It says that having a good school in an area will make the suburb an expensive one.  It says, for instance, that the Sydney suburb of Woollahra, in Australia, has a good school and that has pushed up the price of real estate there. But Woollahra has been an expensive suburb for many years.  I once lived there so I have a good awareness of that. The big terrace house I once lived in is now worth millions. 

And most of the people who live there are beyond the childbearing and childrearing years.  Why?  Because it is mostly only they who can afford to live there.  But if they are living post-children lives, schools are not the reason they live there are they?  In fact there are many reasons people live in leafy Woollahra in Sydney's Eastern suburbs.  I could list them but just ask a real estate agent in the area.

There is of course such a thing as a virtuous circle.  Once a suburb has got a good school, that school will add to the attractiveness of the area and those who have more money will try to move there -- pushing up the price even further than it otherwise would be.  So the story below is not totally wrong.  It is just superficial. 

And it has to be.  When Leftists are asked what makes a good school, they are pretty stumped and tend to mutter vaguely about "privilege".  That is dangerous ground however as many of them send their own kids to such schools. So are they "privileged" too?  They usually don't want to think that so silence is the best option for them

For those who know a bit about the British scene, the video below shows the very upper class Jacob Rees-Mogg embarrassing a privileged Leftist over the highly selective school to which he sent his son, something that was not generally known

So if you are a Leftist, you have to pretend that good schools somehow magically drop out of thin air without any reference to what made them good.  And when you note that such schools tend to be located in expensive areas you have to pretend that it is only the "goodness" of the school that has bid up the price of living in that area.  The article below was published in a very Left-leaning paper

Photographer Jason Busch rarely has to worry about his five-year-old son being late for school. Living right opposite Woollahra Public School, in the eastern suburbs, he has only to glance at the clock and then it’s a 30-second walk.

“We’d heard how good the school was, so that’s a real advantage of living here,” says Busch, who has a daughter, three, who will also attend the school. “As well as being so convenient, getting involved with the school is a great way of becoming part of the community.”

The chance to live in the catchment area of a well-regarded school is a major driver of price in the property market and likely to become more so as private school fees rise, says Domain Group analyst Nicola Powell.

“We know that well-performing public schools certainly have an effect on an area’s price growth,” Dr Powell says. “Private school fees have increased quite significantly, so, if people are priced out of those, they’ll look for good public schools.

“We also tend to find that residents of those areas will stay in those homes for longer, which limits supply and puts even more upward pressure on prices.”

It’s difficult to pinpoint by how much prices may be inflated by the presence of a good school, but anecdotally experts say it can be as much as 5 or 10 per cent.

Real Estate Institute of NSW president Leanne Pilkington believes a school’s strong reputation can precede it. “It can create extra competition in the market, especially if there’s not a lot of property coming up in the area. It can add to the value quite considerably.”

Competition is now so fierce to enrol in some popular public schools that principals ask parents to sign statutory declarations about their living arrangements to make sure their children are eligible to attend. Even leases on investment properties have to be long-term, and false declarations can be punishable by fines of up to $22,000.

Ray White Double Bay agent Di Wilson, who’s selling Busch’s two-bedroom apartment on Edgecliff Road as he and his family look to upsize, believes the prospect of a home so close to an excellent eastern suburbs school will be attractive for a young family.

The garden residence is on the north corner of a 1890 Victorian manor converted into apartments. It has retained its original charm after a contemporary renovation.

“It has all the convenience of an apartment, but it feels much more like a house,” says Wilson, who leads it to a November 8 auction with a price guide of $1.45 million. She says the manor’s apartments were once inhabited by artists and writers.

“For me, arriving in Sydney, it felt like a real community here,” says Busch. “And it still does.”

It’s a similar story for catchments in the inner west, advises Chris Parsons, of McGrath Leichhardt. He says that most buyers ask about zonings for schools such as Leichhardt Public and Orange Grove in Lilyfield. “As well as adding to the price, those schools make all the difference between homes selling or not selling.”

In Baulkham Hills, the high-achieving Matthew Pearce Public is another lure for home-buyers.

“It’s a crucial consideration for a lot of parents,” says Declan Morris, of Manor Real Estate. “We receive a lot of inquiries … and, if they’re not in the right catchment, people often decide to look elsewhere.”


We Must Teach College Students Basic Economics

By some measures, this seems like a great time for the field of economics. Economists are hired at universities, in government, and increasingly in businesses, including at leading tech firms. We are well paid. Economists generally recommend little regulation, reduced taxes, and free trade, and the current administration has adopted two and a half of these policies, with substantial economic success.

And yet, we economists have failed in a very basic regard. We are not educating students about the merits of a capitalist free market system, and we are not educating them about the costs of a socialist system. Thus, students lack basic economic literacy. This is important in a democracy because students become voters and politicians, and they do not understand the basic system they are controlling.

By some measures, this is a great time for the field. And yet, economists have failed in a very basic regard.

Economists disagree on the optimal role of government in society. But virtually all mainstream economists agree that a socialist system, where government controls the means of production in most important segments of the economy, is vastly less efficient than a capitalist economy.

If theory were not enough to teach this lesson, we continually have real world examples, with Venezuela being the most recent. Although Venezuela has large petroleum supplies and was once the richest country in Latin America, socialist policies have reduced it to abject poverty. Food is in such short supply that people are eating zoo animals. Professional women are turning to prostitution to earn money. Seven percent of the population—2.3 million people—have left the country, and more are leaving every day. Similar economic dislocations caused the fall of the Soviet Union, which continually suffered from food shortages.

Despite the obvious and well-document failings of socialism, many Americans support it as an economic system. A recent poll found that 57% of Democrats prefer socialism to capitalism. In a recent election, an avowed socialist, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, won her primary for a seat in Congress, and Bernie Sanders, a socialist, came close to winning the Democratic nomination for President.

Some of the most fervent supporters of socialism are college students—and at most universities, capitalism is a dirty word. The young people supporting socialism are our students, and we should teach them the problems with this fashionable but flawed economic system. But most students do not take economics, and those who do take an introductory economics class may not receive such an education.

There are many reasons for this. Economists respond to incentives, and the incentive system for economists puts little weight on teaching the benefits of capitalism. Most economists, like most academics, advance their careers by publishing articles in increasingly technical and mathematical professional journals. An important result of this is that the classes we teach are becoming increasingly technical and specialized, requiring high-level mathematics. This has the effect of reducing undergraduate demand for the economics major.

It is even worse at the graduate level. I am asked once or twice a year by students who support free markets but lack math skills what to study in graduate school, and I must tell these students that without a good bit of math, it is impossible to get a Ph.D. in economics.

I am not opposed to rigor in economics research and in policy advising. But it would be possible to teach undergraduate economics with a lower level of math. Very few of our students go on to become Ph.D. economists; most go to business or law schools, or directly to the job market. But we teach as if we are teaching future economics professors.

Ordinary citizens need a basic knowledge of economics in order to vote rationally: What will be the consequences of a tax cut or increase? What is the effect of international trade on the economy? What are the costs and benefits of occupational licensing laws?

Ordinary citizens need a basic knowledge of economics in order to vote rationally.

There are a few basic economic principles that are non-intuitive but do not require technical skills to understand. If these were more widely understood, then markets would be viewed more favorably, and socialism would lose its appeal. A very important distinction is the difference between the size of the pie—the amount of goods and services produced—and the division of the pie: who gets how much. Economics focuses on the size of the pie—how can society’s scarce resources be used to produce the most efficient bundle of goods and services.

Voters often focus on the division of the pie—who gets how much? This is because untrained people often view the world as zero-sum. Indeed, zero-sum thinking is probably the cause of most errors in economic thinking, including a belief in socialism. Economies can grow, and it is possible for the rich to get richer at the same time that the poor get richer. The common homily, “The rich get richer and the poor get poorer” is neither certain nor sure; it is totally contrary to fact in a growing market economy

The most basic premise of economics is that hundreds of millions of people can interact with each other with no central direction and no coordination, and yet can reach a consistent outcome which itself has certain efficient properties. This is Adam Smith’s famous “invisible hand.” Because this is not widely understood, there are frequent calls for central direction and central planning, despite its massive failure in the Soviet Union, Venezuela, and wherever else it has been tried.

Economists also understand that selfish behavior can nonetheless lead to desirable outcomes. The uncoordinated behavior can be motivated by selfish ends, and yet the outcome will generally be efficient. Motives do not matter; outcomes do. In some sense, we are all out to maximize our incomes but the way to do this in a market economy is to provide something that others want to buy. Steve Jobs and Bill Gates became fantastically wealthy by creating the computer revolution, and their financial wealth was only a small part of the massive social wealth they created. In a socialist economy, the way to gain wealth is to gain power over others.

If we economists would make the effort to teach these points to as many students as possible, we could reduce the demand by voters for a socialistic economy. Perhaps donors or foundations supporting free markets could create a system of prizes for economists who advance the understanding of markets for ordinary citizens. This could reorder incentives and lead to more and better teaching.


Harvard’s history with Asian-American applicants in the spotlight

The trial over Harvard University’s race-conscious admissions policies may have put a spotlight on current allegations that it discriminates against Asian-American applicants, but the Ivy League school has been dogged by similar questions for nearly 30 years.

On Tuesday, Students for Fair Admissions, which has accused Harvard of racial discrimination, focused on the university’s history during the second day of the closely watched trial. The organization, which represents Asian-American applicants, questioned how much has changed at Harvard since a federal government investigation in 1990 and another inquiry in 2012, and what role race plays in how the university rates applicants.

Students for Fair Admissions alleges that Harvard has general limits on the share of Asian-American students on its campus. The university’s system for evaluating students, particularly on their personal qualities, disadvantages Asian-American applicants, who tend to score lower on that metric, hurting their chances of gaining entrance, the group says.

Harvard has known for a long time that the personal rating is a problem and that race influences that score by admissions officers, Adam Mortara, an attorney for Students for Fair Admissions, said in his opening statement of the trial.

Those personal ratings, which measure characteristics such as courage, kindness, and leadership, are gleaned from an applicant’s letters of recommendation, essays, interview, and other personal data, according to Harvard.

But they are also fairly subjective and drew scrutiny from the US Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights in 1990.

The federal agency investigated complaints that Harvard discriminated against Asian-American applicants and were admitting them at a lower rate than white students. After a review of Harvard’s data, the department didn’t find evidence of racial discrimination but noted that white students were more likely to receive higher personal scores than Asian-Americans.

The report also found that admissions officers would sometime make stereotypical comments about Asian-American applicants.

“Quite often Asian American applicants were described as being quite/shy, science/math oriented, and hard workers,” according to the 1990 civil rights report presented in court on Tuesday. “OCR concluded that, while descriptions of Asian American applicants were found that could have implications for stereotyping of Asian American applicants, they could not be shown to have negatively impacted the ratings given to these applicants.”

William Fitzsimmons, Harvard’s dean of admissions since 1986, said on the stand Tuesday that the Office of Civil Rights report remains an “important benchmark” for the university.

“We took the report, very, very seriously,” he said. “We abhor stereotypical comments. . . . It’s not who I am and not who our admissions committee members are.”

Fitzsimmons said Harvard officials discussed the findings of the report, but he did not say how admissions officials addressed the concerns raised in the report.

Harvard lawyers have yet to question Fitzsimmons. But William Lee, who is representing Harvard in the trial, said the university’s policies have been repeatedly found to be legal and have been cited by the Supreme Court in the past as an appropriate use of race in admissions.

“That was a finding from 1990, when people said in the midst of 110,000 files, they found a few comments,” Lee said. “You know that the ultimate finding was that there was no discrimination.”

According to documents presented in court, the Office of Civil Rights came back to question Harvard in 2012 after parents of an Asian-American student who had been denied admission complained.

Harvard again defended its admissions process and argued that while the unnamed student excelled academically, he did not demonstrate any stellar extracurricular participation or personal qualities.

“While an overwhelming number of applicants could handle Harvard’s academically rigorous undergraduate program, the Admissions Committee engages in a flexible and highly individualized review of all applicants, attempting to select students whose achievements and personal qualities make them most likely to contribute to and benefit from Harvard’s multi-faceted educational environment,” one of Harvard’s attorney’s wrote to the Office of Civil Rights in 2012. This “application simply was not as compelling as those of other candidates who applied.”


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