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As part of our ongoing obsession with improving public education, we bring you a new study from Jonah E. Rockoff of Columbia Business School and Cecilia Speroni, a former doctoral student at Columbia’s Teachers College, that explores the power of objective and subjective teacher evaluations. While an emphasis on merit pay and test scores can lead to widespread cheating (as covered in this week’s Freakonomics Marketplace podcast), not to mention the occasional Matt Damon outburst, Rockoff and Speroni offer a potential glimmer of hope for the old-fashioned approach: the study finds that subjective teacher evaluations for New York City teachers had strong predictive power for future student performance. Here’s the abstract: Read More »
The term “merit pay” has gained a prominent place in the debate over education reform. First it was former D.C. schools chancellor Michelle Rhee trumpeting it as a key to fixing D.C.’s ailing public schools. Then a handful of other districts gave it a go, including Denver, New York City, and Nashville. Merit pay is a big plank in Education Secretary Arne Duncan‘s platform; and Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel has just launched his own version of merit pay that focuses incentives toward principals.
There’s just one problem: educators almost universally hate merit pay, and have been adamantly opposed to it from day one. Simply, teachers say merit pay won’t work.
In the last year, there’s been some pretty damning evidence proving them right; research showing that merit pay, in a variety of shapes and sizes, fails to raise student performance. In the worst of cases, such as the scandal in Atlanta, it’s contributed to flat-out cheating on the part of teachers and administrators. So, are we surprised that educators don’t respond to monetary incentives? What makes teachers different?
For our latest podcast, “The Economist’s Guide to Parenting,” (you can download/subscribe at iTunes, get the RSS feed, listen live via the media player, or read a transcript here) we turned to some of our favorite economists for advice on how to raise children. It’s safe to say you won’t find much of what you hear in any “expert’s” guide to parenting (which was of course the point) but it was a thought-provoking exercise in applying economic principles to one of life’s most perplexing and stimulating activities. As a supplement to the podcast, we thought it would be fun to convene a Freakonomics Quorum and ask some of our contributors, not for their best moment as a parent, but for their worst. The specific question we asked was:
What is the worst mistake you ever made as a parent?
Good sports that they are, they obliged with some lighthearted anecdotes of how sometimes the best intentions of rational, unemotional economists often run face-first into something called kids. Read More »
Earlier this summer, ESPN’s Buster Olney reported that Major League Baseball and the players’ association had recently discussed a form of realignment that would result in two leagues of 15 teams, rather than the current structure of 14 teams in the American League, and 16 in the National League. This sent the sports world into a tizzy as baseball geeks everywhere weighed in on how best to realign MLB. There are a lot of ideas out there: shorten the season so each team gets one day off a week (said to be a favored position of Commissioner Bud Selig), move the Houston Astros or Florida Marlins to the American League; create three divisions of five teams each; do away with the divisions entirely; add an extra wild-card team to expand the playoffs.
There’s also a discussion about finding ways to address the disparity in miles traveled. According to this neat interactive graphic put together by Paul Robbins at the New York Times, in 2009, the Dodgers traveled a league-high 59,742 miles, while the Nationals traveled less than half that, 26,266 miles.
Not to be left out, we decided it was a good time to convene a Freakonomics Quorum. We rounded up a handful of sports economists and asked them the following question:
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What proposed realignment changes seem to make the most sense from a competitive and economic standpoint for Major League Baseball?
Graphic designer Nicholas Felton keeps track of how many miles he walks each day. He also records how many book pages he reads, how many work e-mails he sends, and what songs he listens to. Felton’s become somewhat famous for his obsessive self-tracking, and the slick info-graphics he produces on himself each year. Both the Wall Street Journal and Slate have made videos about him, here and here.
You don’t have to be all that sharp to see that there’s a lot of hacking going on lately. As I type, Rupert Murdoch and his allies are testifying before British Parliament over the mushrooming News of the World disaster. It seems like everyone on earth is getting hacked: consultants and cops, Sony and the Senate, the IMF and Citi, and firms ranging from Lockheed Martin (China suspected) to Google (ditto) to dowdy old PBS. But is there really more hacking than usual of late, or are we just more observant?
To answer this question, we put together a Freakonomics Quorum of cyber-security and I.T. experts (see past Quorums here) and asked them the following:
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Why has there been such a spike in hacking recently? Or is it merely a function of us paying closer attention and of institutions being more open about reporting security breaches?
A month ago, we ran a post featuring a handful of the latest odds on Intrade, including the chances (84% at the time) that Dominique Strauss-Kahn would be found guilty of at least one charge. Those odds have dropped below 10% in the last week, on the news that his accuser may have credibility issues. But when exactly did that price move start?
Reader Chris Reed wrote in asking us to look into the possibility that there was insider trading in the prediction markets on the DSK news. The initial New York Times piece that broke the story that the DSK trial was on the verge of collapse was first posted online Thursday night, June 30, before appearing on the front page of Friday’s paper. The Times doesn’t time-stamp its articles, but the Huffington Post does. Their story linking to the Times piece is time-stamped 9:38 PM ET. Read More »
From a recent USA Today article by Jonathan Shorman comes an astounding (to me) set of facts about drugs and driving that certainly ought to be considered as part of the conversation about decriminalizing marijuana:*
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Researchers examined data on more than 44,000 drivers in single-vehicle crashes who died between 1999 and 2009. They found that 24.9% tested positive for drugs and 37% had blood-alcohol levels in excess of 0.08, the legal limit. Fifty-eight percent had no alcohol in their systems; 5% had less than 0.08. The data were from a government database on traffic fatalities.
Study co-authors Eduardo Romano** and Robert Voas of the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation in Calverton, Md., say their study is one of the first to show the prevalence of drug use among fatally injured drivers. Among drivers who tested positive for drugs, 22% were positive for marijuana, 22% for stimulants and 9% for narcotics.