17 May 2016

Markets not in everything [if you’re Pakistani]

From a Facebook friend:

So, it turns out that Pakistanis are not eligible to purchase travel insurance online with any insurance company. We are simply not on anyone's list of "eligible countries''. Someone has decided that in addition to not being allowed to enter most of the world, we also do not deserve access to basic financial services. Pakistanis wanting to travel can just f@‪#‎k‬ themselves.

Struggling for the right words… contender for absolute worst ‘aid’ project in the world

Der Spiegel reports… the EU is planning to provide training, equipment, and DETENTION CAMPS to the government of Sudan, which is led by a wanted war criminal, in order that they can prevent human beings from crossing the border out of Sudan in the direction of Europe. The project is to be coordinated by the German development agency GIZ. Wow I feel sorry for the idealists at GIZ who signed up in order to help people, and now they’re building detention facilities for war criminals.

"The ambassadors of the 28 European Union member states had agreed to secrecy. "Under no circumstances" should the public learn what was said at the talks that took place on March 23rd … Europe wants to send cameras, scanners and servers for registering refugees to the Sudanese regime in addition to training their border police and assisting with the construction of two camps with detention rooms for migrants."

Let’s recap that arrest warrant for the wanted, at large, alleged war criminal who is the President of Sudan, the man we are apparently hoping to pay to do our dirty work:

"Charged, as an indirect (co) perpetrator, with ten counts of crimes: five counts of crimes against humanity: murder, extermination, forcible transfer, torture, and rape: two counts of war crimes: intentionally directing attacks against a civilian population as such or against individual civilians not taking part in hostilities, and pillaging; three counts of genocide: by killing, by causing serious bodily or mental harm, and by deliberately inflicting on each target group conditions of life calculated to bring about the groups’s physical destruction, allegedly committed at least between 2003 and 2008 in Darfur, Sudan.” (my emphasis)

I mean, certainly you can criticise things like sanctions and aid conditionality, but is there any point at which we might consider it to be a bad idea to do business with this government? Is there any moral threshold here? Does Sudan need to get to be charged with 4 counts of genocide before we stop giving them stuff? Is only 5 counts of crimes against humanity not quite enough??

Note that the arrest warrant refers only to Darfur, ignoring all the other confirmed bombings of civilian and humanitarian targets by military forces in South Sudan and the Nuba Mountains, ignoring deliberately destroying crops during a famine, and ignoring the reports of slavery and child soldiers in Northern/Central Sudan.

I despair.

ht: John Ashworth

12 May 2016

Content knowledge vs pedagogy in Teaching

A fascinating abstract from Roland Fryer. In many school systems you have a single teacher for most subjects in primary school, but increasingly specialised different teachers for each subject in secondary school. This RCT tried out having subject specialist teachers in primary, finding that this worsened outcomes, in theory because at least at primary level it is more important that the teacher knows the kids’ and their ability and is therefore better able to target their teaching, than that they have more specialised knowledge of the subject matter.

Starting in the 2013-2014 school year, I conducted a randomized field experiment in fifty traditional public elementary schools in Houston, Texas designed to test the potential productivity benefits of teacher specialization in schools. Treatment schools altered their schedules to have teachers specialize in a subset of subjects in which they have demonstrated relative strength (based on value-add measures and principal observations). The average impact of teacher specialization on student achievement is -0.042 standard deviations in math and -0.034 standard deviations in reading, per year. Students enrolled in special education and those with younger teachers demonstrated marked negative results. I argue that the results are consistent with a model in which the benefits of specialization driven by sorting teachers into a subset of subjects based on comparative advantage is outweighed by inefficient pedagogy due to having fewer interactions with each student. Consistent with this, specialized teachers report providing less attention to individual students (relative to non-specialized teachers), though other mechanisms are possible.

The 'Pupil' Factory: Specialization and the Production of Human Capital in Schools, Roland G. Fryer, Jr

05 May 2016

Does “the Economist” know what a “market failure” is?

Apparently not. "Do British housing markets suffer from market failure”? The answer is no.

Here’s a quick refresher - a market failure is when the market - left alone - doesn’t produce an efficient or pareto optimal solution. Good examples are externalities such as pollution or congestion, or public goods such as new vaccines. The London housing market is not a good example of a market failure, where poor outcomes are the result of clumsy government regulation restricting supply. The fact that the market is responding to insane restrictions on new supply by focusing what little building they are allowed to do on expensive rather than affordable houses is not a market failure. Yes it is a market, and yes it is producing poor outcomes, but it is failing because of over-regulation. That is a government failure not a failure of the market mechanism.

It’s one thing when ordinary people use economic jargon in a colloquial sense with a totally different meaning to the economic term, but you expect better from a magazine called the Economist.

02 May 2016

A rare non-ideological argument against for-profit schools

To [Samuel] Abrams, the problem with for-profit operation of schools is not that businessmen are making money off the provision of a public service such as education. Textbook publishers, software developers, and bus operators all make money from schools and should, he said, but they are all providing a discrete good or service that can be easily evaluated. “School management, on the other hand, is a complex service that does not afford the transparency necessary for proper contract enforcement,” he said. “Without such transparency, there’s client distrust: parents, taxpayers, and legislators can never be sure the provider is doing what was promised; and the child as the immediate consumer cannot be in a position to judge the quality of service. Regular testing has been promoted as a check on quality. But teachers can teach to the test. And worse, as we know from cheating scandals in Atlanta and many other cities, teachers can change wrong answers to right answers on bubble sheets once students are done.”

From the International Education News blog at Teacher’s College, Columbia.

The trouble with the argument is that it rests on the empirical question of whether student test-based accountability systems for schools can work, and though the question is not conclusively settled, my reading is that the evidence seems to be leaning in the direction of roughly “yes".