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May 30, 2008

Raising Grades

Improving Educational Reputation by Changing What Is Taught and How It Is Tested

David Foster posted Skipping Science Class, Continued on 5/28/08. Here is an excerpt:

A couple of days ago, the Telegraph had an article about the British Government’s new national science test and the unbelievably simplistic questions it contains. For example:

In a multiple choice question, teenagers were asked why electric wires are made from copper. The four possible answers were that copper was brown, was not magnetic, conducted electricity, or that it conducted heat.

This question can of course be answered without knowing anything at all about either electricity or copper.

This is my guess as to what is going on.

Read more ...

Business organizations have to gain more resources than they use (make money), so they develop measures of production and efficiency to guide them. If they don't make money, they must find more effective measures. Making money is a hard fact that cannot be faked or explained away. Not for long, anyway.

Schools administered by government are a bureaucracy. Bureaucracies don't make money, so they are free to develop measures of productivity that show success, and also redefine their operations to create success.

Such schools started by testing for knowledge, which gives disappointing results.

They later discovered that the test results could be "renormalized to a curve", which standardizes the results to show 70% success in all courses. This is the practice of giving some percentage of the class A's, some percentage B's, and so on. This is explained as merely adjusting for the different abilities of the teachers. No matter how bad the subject matter or the teacher, the measure shows good results, because some percentage of the class gets A's and B's, by design. Educational failure is distributed silently to the students, and little effort goes into follow-up studies that would reveal the failures.

Unfortunately, even grading to the curve is disappointing. It is hard to explain why students get an "A" for answering 60% of the multiple choice questions correctly, or a "C" for answering 30%.

Now, in the later stages, government schools realize that it is easier to show success if you construct easier questions. The students aren't benefitting from the classes anyway, and the smart kids will learn on their own what they need to, so why make the questions hard? The schools redesign the classes to be about social relations, which everyone understands, and they design the tests to guide students to the correct answers. Grading on the curve gives the same results, 70% success, but at least an "A" can be set at answering 85% correctly.

The school is saying, in effect, Who cares about why copper carries electricity the best? When you go to buy the wire, it is made of copper. There is really no need to understand how the world works, just accept it the way that it is handed to you.

Question: Why are the rules the way that they are? Answer: Because those are the rules, and that is easy to remember.

May 27, 2008

How To Predict the Future Without Knowing Anything

Jim: I have come to learn from the master. How do you sell so much stock? I know that you aren't studying those reports. So, give.

Mike: Uh, I'd rather not divulge my secrets.

Jim: In this case, you will tell me, or the boss is going to find out who took his cigars.

Mike: (smiling) I suppose it won't hurt to tell a man of your integrity.

Cold-call 20 prospects, and maybe 16 will listen to you. Tell them that they are wise to be skeptical of a new broker, but that you are willing to prove that you know what you are doing. No obligation.

Give each prospect the names of 4 stocks that have good analytical ratings. We know that they are just as likely to go up as go down. Use 4 different stocks for each person, so you can't be too unlucky. Don't sell them anything yet. Keep good records. Wait a while, call back the "winners", and then sell, sell, sell.

Jim: That doesn't seem like it is going to work.

Mike: So, you aren't too good with numbers. Here is the breakdown.

Each of your stocks has about equal chances of going up or down. After a few weeks, they will all change at least a little. There are 4 of them for each person, so on average the 16 results for 4 stocks work out like this:

 People      %  GoesUp  Reputation
 -----   -----  ------  ----------
   1      6.25    4     Wizard
   4     25.00    3     Analyst
   6     37.50    2     Who needs you?
   4     25.00    1     Idiot
   1      6.25    0     Jinx
One prospect out of 16 saw all the stock picks go up, and 4 out of 16 saw three stocks go up. There are 5 prospects who now think that you are a Wizard or Analyst. Sell them stocks with dividends, and it may take forever for them to catch on that your advice is only average. In a down market, show them that their stocks didn't go down as much as they could have. In an up market, you may get 11 converts instead of just 5.

Jim: That is beautiful! But, what if they catch on?

Mike: Our cold-call lists are wide and deep. There are always more fish in the sea.

Jim: OK, thanks, I'm not telling anyone else in our shop. You know (thinking) this would work pretty well in a lot of sales situations, even in politics.

Mike: (smiling) Yeah.

May 19, 2008

A New Kind of Politics

Mr. Obama gets support by saying that he is a new kind of politician, not like those terrible old types of politician.

The same is true for Mr. McCain, Ms. Clinton, Mr. Edwards, Ms. Pelosi in Congress, and all of the other members of Congress. All of the state governors, too. Politicians are all promising change this year, as opposed to the old, horrible, non-change of their past performance.

Read more ...

All of these people have seen the light of change, and want to give us a lot of it. There is no explanation for why they didn't give us change last year or five years ago. Well, let's be thankful for change now. The particular plans will be announced as soon as they are put together. For now, great change is written on cocktail napkins all across this nation. They will focus their minds on the details as soon as the pressure of being elected has passed.

Have you ever seen a certain memo from your managers at work? It said that greater profits (or smaller losses) would be possible if everyone would just work harder, or smarter, or pay attention. Everyone should pull together and do a better job, with less sickness, fewer errands, quicker sips from the water cooler, and reusing the coffee cups. Above all, everyone should be proud of their company and support their great managers. Did this make you feel better? Was it successful?

When a politician says "I will bring you change", you must expect him (or her) to deliver the plan, not just the plan for the plan. You have a right to see the details, and see the analysis that others make of the details. Without that, you have only a promise, one that has been made for hundreds of years.

May 5, 2008

A Political Speech: Troubling Times


My fellow Americans.

May I first say that all of you are the most intelligent, beautiful, clear thinking, generous, patriotic, and deserving people that I have met, along with all of the other great people of your town, city, and state.

I am sorry to bring you bad news, and I hope you don't shoot the messenger (smiles). We live in troubling and difficult times.

The details don't really matter. If you must have something specific to focus your thoughts, then one or more of these may do: global warming, gasoline prices, college tuition, colder winters, home mortgages, unemployment, bridge collapses, earthquakes, medical costs, fatty foods, terrorists, equine encephalitis, hurricanes, cable TV rates, ozone holes, flu epidemics, cigarette smoke, rich neighbors, day care, retirement funding, melting glaciers, potholes, demanding employers, and taxes.

I could go on. My staff has compiled a list of 463 of life's difficulties, and I am not convinced that we have listed them all. I haven't published this list, it is too depressing.

The good news is that I am ready to roll up my sleeves, sit down with the very best people who will work with the government, and deliver to you a better life. If we organize things in a different way, and all come together in support of this common good, we can finally get a grip on the situation and prosper in ways that are not even imaginable today.

Honestly, this will cost some money, and there will be higher taxes, but isn't it worth it? I promise that we will not raise much more tax from you, but only from those fortunate few that have money in the bank and an income that you find hard to imagine. And from the highest paid basketball and football players, and lottery winners. I think that you agree, that they should not overly benefit from their luck and ability, when there is so much need among you all.

It is clear to me, and I hope to you, that the difference between a world of need and a world of plenty, the difference between a world of want and a world of happiness, is the excess profit of that elite. So what if they haven't stolen their wealth from you; they haven't shared it with you either. They have paid a small one-third of their income in tax, and it certainly could be a bit more.

I want to be realistic. My time in political office, and possibly the service of my wife, in-laws, cousins, and children, may not be enough to complete all of the changes that are needed. I can set the government onto a new path, and it will be the work of others from my family and party to continue on that path.

Even after I leave office, after serving for as long as humanly and legally possible, the fruit of these efforts may not be realized. I will then work tirelessly to publish books, give lectures, and attend tedious but necessary events and dinners to continue the work of helping you all. I will convert a large portion of my Connecticut residence to be the offices of the Committee for the Future, so that this work can go on.

That is the dream. First, I must be elected. With your help, support, and votes, I will gain high office and be the embodiment of change and prosperity. If not now, then when?

Harrison Bergeron
01/27/10 - A short story by the late Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. (1961) - Online

Current governments want to solve life's problems by soaking the rich. There is another way to achieve equality and lower envy between people.

Vonnegut wrote about forcing equality by making people equal in everything by handicapping them physically and mentally. Very funny, and spot on about the politically correct view of equality. An excerpt:

It was tragic, all right, but George and Hazel couldn't think about it very hard. Hazel had a perfectly average intelligence, which meant she couldn't think about anything except in short bursts. And George, while his intelligence was way above normal, had a little mental handicap radio in his ear. He was required by law to wear it at all times. It was tuned to a government transmitter. Every twenty seconds or so, the transmitter would send out some sharp noise to keep people like George from taking unfair advantage of their brains.