Archive | March, 2012

Regression discontinuity analysis, or Why I Don’t Care What School My Baby Goes To

15 Mar

Last summer a paper by Abdulkadiroglu, Angrist, and Pathak (yes, now that’s a mouthful) demonstrated the effects of exam schools on test score outcomes. In NYC, exam schools are like Stuyvesant and Bronx Science; they are public, but students need to test into them. In Boston, Boston Latin in the oldest and most well-known exam school. They are all wildly competitive to get into.

What they wanted to know is, are higher scores at exam schools due to the schools being awesome, or are the higher scores due to the schools’ selectivity in admitting students. Are they awesome because they shepherd through already-awesome students, or are they awesome because they are awesome-making factories of awesome?

The authors used a regression-discontinuity method to investigate the effects of schools on test scores. That is, they looked at students who were just above the minimum score required for admission to an exam school, and compared them to students who were just below that score requirement. Since this is a continuous variable, we expect that people on just either side of that line should be quite similar. But since there is a large difference in outcomes for those tests (admission to, or rejection from, exam school), there is a discontinuity of ‘treatment.’

The upshot is that there is virtually no difference between those two groups of students. And if the awesome school had an effect on scores, we should see students who went to the exam schools doing better than those who did not.

So, this means a few things; and it suggests some other things. It demonstrates that for those who are marginally good enough to qualify for an exam school, you would do no better at an exam school than you would at a public school, measured by test scores as a proxy for educational achievement. The authors suggest that other data points to not giant differences between ‘marginal’ exam school students and the rest of the exam school students, but they don’t show this directly. And, the best students at exam schools test higher than the best students at public schools. We just don’t have any evidence that the school is responsible for those scores.

The work, in combination with other anecdotal data suggests that exam schools cater to their best students – to allow the best students to do great at things like the Intel Science and Engineering Fair and other competitions that matter for small numbers at the high end.

I would also strongly suggest that the ‘best’ schools, how do I say this delicately, allow your little one to mix with other type-A elite-seeky students and their families. I’m going to call this a mixed bag at the moment, since I know that in the back of their minds, people are thinking ‘networking!’ But there’s a healthy dose of fuck you in my assessment of the worth of that.

At the end of the day, as Felix Salmon notes, you would be better off spending the money you’d spend in school fees for more books, more trips to museums and interesting places. You could buy a Solar Stirling Engine! Or a high-grade chemistry set! Or a year’s membership to the MoMA!

But I am sorry, but I just can’t bring myself to get worked up about what school baby goes to. Maybe he’ll go to fancy school. Maybe he’ll go to schlumpy public school. But the dirty little truth is that for us, with our resources and educations and emphasis on education, it just doesn’t matter.

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Writing for an audience of one

14 Mar

One of the difficult things about starting a blog is that you kind of have to continue writing on the blog. This is good when there is a specific purpose (for you, at least), or a passion for sharing, or if you’re getting paid to do it. For something like Brooklyn Dad, the impetus for the blog remains, ‘can you raise a normal kid in Park Slope?’ But increasingly I’m having trouble thinking about that. It’s time to do something different, and to return to writing for an audience of one – me. Me me me me me. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I love you. I love you. You are awesome, and I want a closer relationship with you. You make me happy when skies are grey. But I write best when I’m writing for me.

This is not a prelude to saying that I’m giving up on the blog, or that I’ll be posting much more intermittently (really, how much more intermittent can you get already?). It is, instead, a way to try writing my way back into the blog, and into more regular updates on the wacky and wonderful life that fathering a baby in Brooklyn entails. It may take a bit of time. Right now, it feels like I need to make up the time I’ve spent not writing with an epic post of catchup. There are 5 posts in ‘draft’ mode already, dribs and drabs of that epic post that inevitably feel less than satisfying. I’ll finish that later. And then it’s later, and I haven’t.

I realize I’m describing something familiar to anyone doing, well, almost anything. It’s why I always felt bad when I hadn’t called my grandma enough when I was a teenager, and then feeling bad led to not calling, led to feeling bad. Rinse, repeat. Which is all so odd, considering that the parenting stuff has been going so well! And I’m pretty happy, if stressed out about our future career plans, living plans.

It is also the case that we’ve moved past the easy and easily-described funny misunderstandings about being parents. The ways that diaper and delivery used to have to wait on the nursing department at inopportune moments. Things are so much more divergent, and, well, significant now. It just is not that funny to talk about how we think about religious education and ethics, and schools, and sleeping and eating patterns, and development, all in such different ways. Making fun of these things in a public way is more passive-aggressive than joking about my mother-in-law. haha, baby mama wants to send our kid to private school, which I think is crazier than the Republican position on birth control. Zing!

So either it’s down the rabbit hole a bit more, or else endless posts on Notes from the Tot Lot (and there will be posts on this! The place is, as we sociologists say, ethnographically rich!). This is potentially a little sketchy, but I’m going to give it a try.

And on the flip side, I want to share more ephemera, stuff that matters to no one but me. What iphone or XBox games I’m playing (King of Dragon Pass! Dark Souls!). Gender, technology, the future, recipes for chocolate ice cream. Coding, our awesome enamel mugs, a jellyfish in a bottle! I don’t really watch much TV anymore, my procrastination time, such as it is, is spent surfing the nooks and crannies of the interwebs.

So here comes more. Our baby turned 15 months yesterday. Let’s celebrate almost a year and a half of dadd-ing it up.