Teachers and Intelligence

An individual’s performance is influenced, among other things, by his creativity, his motivation, his personality, and his intelligence. Intelligence can either be crystallized or fluid. Crystallized intelligence is in long term memory: it is what his knowledge, his expertise, his experience. Fluid intelligence is the central executive of working memory which controls what you think, what you pay attention to, and how you reason. Besides the episodic buffer that provides context, fluid intelligence is composed of a visuo-spatial sketchpad associated with scientific and mathematical reasoning, and also a phonological loop associated with rhetorical and verbal reasoning.

This is the context for some charts provided by the Educational Testing Service [PDF download], and already discussed by Education Realist, Razib Khan, and Steve Sailer.

Here is the chart for the verbal SAT score of teachers, which is a rough measure of their verbal and rhetorical:

Here is a chart for the mathematical SAT score of teachers, which is a rough measure of their scientific and mathematical reasoning ability:

Steve Sailer had the following thoughts:

Overall, public school teachers are pretty average for college graduates. It looks like they average about a quarter of a standard deviation lower on college admission tests than do average college graduates. But then college graduates are above average. With the exception of high school math teachers, teachers tend to score higher on the Verbal / Critical Reading section than on the Math section. That’s their job: to use words to explain stuff. But it also explains why they have trouble dealing with the flood of data that’s been incoming in recent years: thinking about statistics isn’t their strong suit.

My guess is that smarter teachers would probably be a good thing, so we ought to be thinking about ways to make the job of teaching more attractive to smart people. In general, smart people don’t like dealing with knuckleheads, so forcing teachers to carry most of the burden of discipline, a growing trend in recent decades, is a good way to keep smart people out of the business. You can instead use some of those gym teachers to run after school detentions instead of delegating most of the disciplining down to the teachers as happens in so many public schools desperate to avoid disparate impact lawsuits by not generating a paper trail of discipline actions carried out by the administration.

My take is if you want more lawyers and MBAs produced by our educational system, you should be happy with the status quo. If you think Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) are better at producing wealth, though, you should be unhappy for this.

On the other hand, if we don’t start treating teachers as professionals we’re going to end up with idiot-proof instructional technology anyway, so it might not even matter.

Parents and the Two Income Trap

One of the dimensions of force in the education reform debate is child-care, with both parents and large employers viewing schools primarily as a way to turn children into adults with specifics skills, attitudes, and knowledge. Of the three dimensions of force (money, power, and childcare), childcare is the one with the least complex. While teachers and publishers battle each other for the chance to divert money away from children and to themselves, and while States and Districts squabble over political power, parents and large employers do not disagree about much. Both desire children to become productive members of society.

Importantly, both also suffer from a collective action problem. That is, the cost for making America’s education system world-class is high, and any individual parent or employer can opt-out by simply renting better childcare on their own. For employers this means paying slightly more for one of the competent workers, and for parents this means paying slightly more for one of the competent schools. The consequences for employers and employees of the first part of this is clear: a greater labor cost means a higher standard of living (and least in the short run) for competent workers, and greater automation and outsourcing to compensating for it, leading to a lower standard of living (at least in the short run) for those automated or outsourced out of a job.

The consequences for parents are more profound.

The K-12 education market in the United States is profoundly warped. Parents typically buy access to good schools through pay rent or mortgages in good school districts. Because the teaching profession has been lobotomized through low wages, sending children to many schools would be morally tantimount to child abuse. Bidding wars thus erupt to gain access to these good schools, in the forms of expensive mortgages and high rents. People who actually own this property (apartment managers, real estate developers, and mortgage holders) become rentiers who profit at the expense of parents trying to provide a better life for their children. (Thus, landowners are an important rentier class in the education debate, along with teachers and publishers).

This leads many parents to face what Elizabeth Warren called “the two income trap.” The bidding war for good schools, along with the breakdown of widespread sexual discrimination, encourages both men and women to work, and use the excess income to buy housing near a good school. This means that if the husband loses work for whatever reason, the wife cannot temporarily increase the family’s income by taking additional part-time work. Further, in the event of a medical emergency in the family, the wife cannot act as a “free” caregiver. In both cases, America’s two-earner encouraged by our bad schools increases the financial risks of families, and thus increases domestic violence, divorce, and economic ruin.

While the low quality of America’s teacher workforce is certainly one reason for this, others exist as well. America’s education management force is low quality as well. Further, peers matter — who a child goes to school with matters quite a lot. Parents (meaning parents who are actually engaged with and concerned for their child’s future) can reasonable expect a school to be better if fewer students from low-income households attend it. Thus, a brutal but effectve way to increase the quality of schools for many parents would be to exclude students from communities that historically are not focused on education. Brown v. Board of Education and other cases have made this policy untenable, however, leading to more low-income parents to be priced out of good schools because they now have economic competition from communities of comparative earning ability but with a broken pipeline to class mobility.

But in either case, the problems remain. And the economic stress bad schools place on parents mean that solutions that require paying teachers more — such as turning teaching into a profession — may be impractical.

Short Review of “United Red Army,” directed by Koji Wakamatsu

I thought about it over the night — it was hard to get to sleep last night — and I can say that United Red Army is the most disturbing film I have ever seen.

United Red Army is the story of birth, life, and death of the URA, formed by an alliance between the Japanese Red Army Faction (RAF) and the Japanese Revolutionary Leftist Faction (RLF).

I started watching United Red Army knowing only about the events which concern the middle part of the film, and those only in outline. I recommend going into the film with as little knowledge as possible. The craziness of the United Red Army is underscored by not knowing what happens next.

Think of a cult or revolutionary terrorist organization. The URA is more dysfunctional. The horror of United Red Army does not come from the civilians or police they kill (Though there are a few). The horror of the United Red Army is how they treat their own members.

It is amazing that except for one moment of comic relief (“There is no such thing as a counterrevolutionary cookie!”) there is no sense of the absurd in the film. The insanity storyline is much closer to a comedy or satire than something that could have actually happened. Imagine The Office with Trotskyite-Maoist rhetoric.

Except United Red Army is not a comedy. The United Red Army actually was.

Buy from Amazon. Rent from Greencine. Stream from Netflix.

Partisanship as a Strategy of the Weak

If you listen to anti-education-reform activists like Diane Ravitch, you’ll notice an odd-pattern

First, a long list of enemies, ranging from liberals such as Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Barack Obama, and Andrew Cuomo; independents such a Mort Zuckerman and Michael Bloomberg; and conservatives such as George Bush, Jeb Bush, and Mitt Romney.

Second, rhetoric associated with the political left, including “Governor 1%,” “I won’t turn my back on unions,” “rightwingers,” and “Tea-Party teacher-basher.”

Why do anti-reform activists use the rhetoric of the left, when the leadership of the  left and right are united against them?

Some people will say that this is evidence of the lobotomized nature of the teaching activists. Those people will say that if you treat a political group as badly as teachers have been treated — if you pay them very little for generations until you finally run the professionals out of teaching — you should expect foolish and self-defeating rhetoric and policies from that group. After all, the teaching profession was foolish enough to lose its leadership position in the education arena, and to allow its once dominant political network to be encircled by hostile stakeholders. If teachers were so smart, so the argument would go, why would academics and bureaucrats be setting the terms of the education reform debate?

I’ve harshly criticized teachers for being politically deaf, and even opponents of education reform (such as my friend Mark Safranski) readily agree the teacher leadership is not up to the job

You are particularly right on in saying the union leadership was incapable of dealing with this challenge and in denial (minus one guy in the 90′s, Bob Chase, who saw all of this coming and tried to reform the NEA to no avail. His current successor is a fool and a potential sell-out to find a comfortable place for himself)

There is, however, another possibility. It is possible that anti-reform activists are trying to start a political battle over education reform. If a rational actor finds himself in a position with no friends, and without the capacity to express empathy to other actors, the next best thing is to gain friends through the tactic of “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.” Activists like Diane Ravitch may be trying to incite a Republican-Democratic divide over education policy, and hope that their membership in one party’s coalition provides them protection.

There is evidence that this tactic has shown some success. For instance, the 2011 Wisconsin Budget Repair Bill Protests led to a flurry of anti-Reform anti-Republican sentiment on partisan Democratic sites, including articles like these:

Whether or not partisanship is the intention of Diane Ravitch and others, it certainly an outcome of their rhetoric. And, if partisanship is the strategy of the weak in this case, it is hardly the first time. The early Christians threw their lot into the pro-Roman faction of Imperial politics, even though the Romans were actively hostile to the Christians. If Paul could endorse Caesar, is it that surprising that Ravitch would use leftist rhetoric?

Americans who support education reform should thus be careful to avoid falling into traps set by anti-reform activists. In particular, elite-level consensus is probably a smarter strategy than political mass movements, as mass movements can more easily be hijacked by partisan rhetoric.

How Platform Monopolies Fail

Technology platform tend towards monopoly. Whether physical or virtual, platforms provide a level playing field for other actors to use to their advantage. The predictability of monopolies allows other actors to plan for the future, and the technological stabilization they present make the road ahead a lot less frightening for most involved. Monopolies cannot and do not “charge whatever they want” — they price their goods so that they capture a portion of the value they provide that is still low enough to deter other potential competitors from entering the market.

Markets fail through either lack of empathy or lack of understanding. Lack of empathy occurs when the monopoly is blind to the political concerns of other stakeholders, and they therefore use their power to break the monopoly. For instance, in the United States, the left-of-center turned strongly against the physical sciences after the Vietnam War, at the same time at the right-of-center was agitating against government control. The Bell System, by continuing to fund physics research while relying on government control of rates, thus back unempathetic to other actors, and was broken up.

General Motors was a much more empathetic monopoly. They encouraged the growth of the United Auto Workers, allowing both the capital and labor sides of the organization to strongly influence the Republican and Democratic parties, respectively. GM cleverly overcharged for their products, allowing niche competitors such as Ford and Chrysler to survive (and providing a veneer of competiton), while keeping those marginal companies captive through the threat of lower prices. Indeed, GM as an organization was so empathetic that management and labor was bailed out by the Bush and Obama administrations! Unfortunately for GM,the shock of high oil prices lead to a decline nonetheless.

In the US education system, the Teachers Front Organizations opeated as a monpoly for nearly a century, until being replaced by the federal-academic complex.The reason was both lack of empathy and an external shock. The lack of empathy was exhibited primarily from the Teachers Front Organizations’ lack of concern with State power or Employer’s seeking workers that can be hired. The external shock was first the sexual integration of the American workplace, followed by globalization.

I imagine that if either of these things had not been there — if the Teachers Front Organizations had not been lacking in empathy, if the workplace had not been integrated, or if globalization had not occured, the Teachers Front Organizations would stil be the platform monpoly in the US educational system. If the workforce had not been integrated, teaching would not have suffered from the lobotomy of low wages, as the sexism discount would have still brought many high-performing women into teaching. Likewise, if globalization had not occured, large employers would not have faced the stress of tring to hire a proportionate fraction of their labor force in the United States while facing a disproportionate incompetent labor force in the form of public school graduates.

The consequences of this failed monopoly are as hard for teachers as the failure of the Bell System or GM where for their stakeholders. The teacher leadership in the United States has left everyone — including teachers — down.

Monopolies do not last forever. And monopolies are not all bad. But the Teachers Front Organizations died as a monpoly because it was bad at its most basic job: survival

Review of “Steve Jobs” by Walter Isaacson

The outline of Steve Jobs’ life has been told so often there is not much to gain by regurgitating it. His hippie past, his co-founding of Apple and eventual ouster by John Sculley. His forays at Next and Pixar, which struggled before being sold to Apple to Disney, respectively. His triumphant return as CEO at Apple, his introduction of the iMac, iPod, and iPhones. His cancer, his death. His sour personality, and his focus on design.

More interesting to me are themes which are hinted at, but not explored in great depth. What he learned from his failures, and how his second time as CEO was radically different from his first. During early yearls at Apple, then Next and Pixar, Jobs was manipulated, unfocused, and eager to embrace technology. His last years at CEO, during which he took it from near bankruptcy to being the most valuable company in the world, Jobs was more manipulate, he was more focused, and was more skeptical of the advantages of technology.

During his early time at Apple, Steve Jobs displayed a lack of empathy and inability to build non-obvious support networks. His rivalry with John Sculley was not just bitter, but it was self-sabotaged. While Sculley took steps to prove himself to the Board of Directors and support internal stakeholders, Jobs felt free to alienate both. Likewise, while Sculley made extravegent shows of giving Jobs second, third, and fourth chances, Jobs insisted that Sculley be dismissed immediately. Sculley successfully manipulated the environment such that the Board insisted twice that he dismiss Jobs: imagine being in a position all important stakeholders are insisting on your approval to fire your rival!

Jobs was wiser after his return. He became a patron of the Marketing and Design departments, ensuring internal support for initiatives. He also chose a board that was generally supportive of him, removing Board Members like Eric Schmidt when they showed signs of independent thought. Just as Sculley had, decades earlier, maneuvers for the board to beg him to fire Steve, Jobs maneuvered for the board to beg him to return as CEO.

During his early time at Pixar, Jobs was unfocused. The company burned through a large amount of money attempting to break into medical imaging and other fields. The whole time (at least according to Walter Isaacson’s biography), Jobs’ passion at Pixar were its work in animation, both providing equipment to Disney and especially the films created by the artistic staff. Jobs would not make the same mistake at Apple: instead products were killed for the good of the company, and apple even dropped the “Computer” from its former name of “Apple Computer, Inc,” to emphasize it was primarily in the devise business.

During his early years at Apple and Next, Jobs demanded clean, fully automated, high-tech assembly lines. Now, as Mike Daisey states in his amazing one-man play, The Agony and Esctasy of Steve Jobs, we live in a world made by hand. You may have more phones in your household made by hand than your parents did at your age. Our handicraft world was made possible by Steve Jobs, recognizing his early failures by trusting machines against economic sense, and of course Apple’s Chinese suppliers.

There’s a ton more in the Steve Jobs biography to read. I strongly suggest you do. In spite of having earlier read Fire in the Valley, iWoz, iCon, and The Second Coming of Steve Jobs, I more than doubled my knowledge about Apple and Jobs by reading this book. But the most interesting lessons may be the ones least explored.

I read Steve Jobs, by Walter Isaacson, in the Kindle Edition.

Rest in Peace, Bill Janklow

Bill Janklow, my former Governor, passed away today. He was 73.

It is impossible to express how large (and generally benevolent) a presense he was in South Dakota politics. Under his leadership, South Dakota was the first state in the union to wire ever school to the internet. Many of the return addresses for credit card bills and mailings you receive probably have a return address of “Sioux Falls, SD” — that is also because of him.

Everyone has their own Bill Janklow stories. He has screamed (in person to one, over the phone to another) at least two members of my close family. A waitress friend of ours, who works at a small town steakhouse, would complain about his latest antics there.

Bill felt nowhere more comfortable than in a small town steakhouse. Though I doubt the Hy-Vee Cafteria could have been far behind.

Janklow’s dad was a prosecutor at the Nuremberg Trials. Bill profoundly identified with South Dakota as only somewhere raised here but stil from “outside” could. He was born in Chicago, and gave his religion as “Jewish Lutheran.”

We’ll miss you.

Update: The Argus Leader captures the mood perfectly: The lion is dead.

Organizing my Thoughts on Platforms

While reading more about education reform, I came across this post by my friend Mark — “Two Links on Political Economy” — that in term referenced to articles by John Robb, “BOW-TIE CONTROL SYSTEMS,” and “JOURNAL: Global Financial Cancer. While John’s rhetoric is typically melodramatic, he uses the terms “bow-tie” and platform” to refer to what I’ve called a “bank” and a “central actor.” I like the term “platform,”so I went back to understand where else I’ve used the idea on the blog.

Under the Term “Central Actor”

Social Platforms



Referencing Other Writers

How to Be a Central Actor in the Education Debate

Education policy in the United States has enjoyed two central actors in the past century — first the Teachers’ Front Organizations, and more recently the Federal-Academic Complex. The Teachers Front Organizations include the American Federation of Teachers (“AFT”) labor union, the National Education Association (“NEA”) labor union, the National Parent-Teacher Association (“your school’s PTA”), school boards who membership is influenced by teacher turn-out, and so on. The Federal-Academic Complex is composed of major research universities, the Department of Education, the National Science Foundation, large charitable trusts, and so on.

The Central Actor — whether as in the past Teachers Front Organizations, or as now the Federal-Academic Complex — is a bank. Actors that are more narrowly focused will trade the resources they have to the Central Actor in order to gain more of the resource they most prize.

In the past, when Teachers Front Organizations were the Central Actor, and all dimensions of force focused on them. Publishers used their political power to flatter teacher-controlled school boards to sell their books, parents paid taxes to teacher-run schools to take care of their children, and State politicians gave control of childcare o teacher organizations to secure their own elections. Teacher Front Organizations easily converted money, power, and childcare, and used canny trades to increase their money, power, and control over children.

Now, that the Federal-Academic Complex is the Central Actor, all these processes still occur — but the Federal-Academic Complex, not the Teacher Front Organizations, benefit. It is impossible to search online or read twitter without encountering howls of pain and anguish from teachers, who correctly see that their power is being eviscerated and that bureaucrats, scientists, do-gooders, and academics are enjoying the rewards that used to be theirs. Worse, from the stand-point of teachers, teacher welfare has gone from being one of the objectives of the Central Actor to a thing that can be bargained away. It is hard to imagine publishers gaining enough leverage over the Teacher Front Organizations to divert a significant amount of money away from teachers and to themselves. It trivially easy to imagine Publishers trading that much power to the Federal-Academic Complex to divert money away from teachers and to themselves.

One reason for the current weakness of teachers is the lobotomy of low wages, but of course low wages don’t just happen — they were caused. Specifically, the rise of the Federal-Academic Complex and the fall of Teachers Front Organizations is the result of a broader trend: the dismantling of democracy in the United States that began in the 1930s under President Roosevelt.

In same ways, this was a good thing. I’ve previously written that the military-industrial complex keeps the world safe from American democracy, and in the education reform debate I am more sympathetic to the Federal-Academic Complex than to what is left of the Teachers Front Organizations. But it is undeniable that the ability of “bottom-up” teachers organizations to control education policy in the United States was eventually killed by the “top-down” tendencies of the Federal Bureaucracy. Step-by-step the Teachers Front Organizations allowed the Federal-Academic Complex to aggrandize itself, not realizing its threat as a top-down competitor and instead just treating it as another weak partner, ripe for parasitism.

In order to be a Central Actor, you need to things: the ability to act as bank for more narrow-minded actors, and the possession of a politically-feasible foundation. The Teachers Front Organizations, formerly diverse and uniquely suited to local American democracy, used to possess these attributes. The Federal-Academic Complex, diverse and unique suited to the commanding heights of the American economy, now possesses them, instead.