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Sunday, October 28, 2012

Should Elementary Schools Have an Honors Class? Experimental Evidence

To the extent that students benefit from having higher-achieving peers, tracking students into separate classes by prior achievement could disadvantage low-achieving students while benefiting high-achieving students, thereby exacerbating inequality. On the other hand, tracking could potentially allow teachers to more closely match instruction to students’ needs, benefiting all students. This suggests that the impact of tracking may depend on teachers' incentives. 
...In 2005, 140 primary schools in western Kenya received funds to hire an extra grade one teacher. Of these schools, 121 had a single first-grade class, which they split into two sections, with one section taught by the new teacher. In 60 randomly selected schools, students were assigned to sections based on initial achievement. In the remaining 61 schools, students were randomly assigned to one of the two sections. 
...We find that tracking students by prior achievement raised scores for all students, even those assigned to lower achieving peers. On average, after 18 months, test scores were 0.14 standard deviations higher in tracking schools than in nontracking schools (0.18 standard deviations higher after controlling for baseline scores and other control variables). After controlling for the baseline scores, students in the top half of the preassignment distribution gained 0.19 standard deviations, and those in the bottom half gained 0.16 standard deviations. Students in all quantiles benefited from tracking.
From a recent paper by Duflo, Dupas, and Kremer (2011). Here's an ungated version. The paper is richer in its details and as expected from the reputation of these folks, the paper is full of clarity and insight, even though it would seem, after reading it, that of course it's kinda obvious (but it really is not).

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

The Globalization of Everything But Labor

...The principal way rich countries disadvantage the poor world is not through unfair trade, or through intrusive and ineffective aid, or by forcing repayments of debt. The primary policy pursued by every rich country is to prevent unskilled labor moving into their countries. And because unskilled labor is the primary asset of the poor world, it is hard to even imagine a policy more inimical to a poverty reduction agenda or to "pro-poor growth" than one limiting the demand for unskilled labor (and inducing labor-saving innovations). I asked this question: Why, when influential policymakers and advocates speak about "development," could we not hear a quartet, not just a trio; to fairer trade, better aid, and debt relief, add more access to rich countries for unskilled labor.
That is Lant Pritchett, in Let Their People Come. The book has been absolutely influential in shaping my research interests and agenda. And as I prepare to present some (very preliminary) research ideas on the topic in the next couple of days, I am rereading the book for inspiration, to remember why I got interested in the topic in the first place.

The empirical facts indeed are quite striking. World trade has remarkably opened up in the past decades, while immigration policy has become more and more restrictive.

Monday, October 1, 2012

The Answer to Hateful Speech is Not Repression, it is More Speech

Obama's UN speech on why the US didn't ban the outrageous Muslim video that sparked controversy across the world. Timely, as it relates to the recent Cybercrime law in the Philippines. The bit I liked most was this. (But please do read the whole thing as to avoid misunderstanding what he says)
I know there are some who ask why we don't just ban such a video. The answer is enshrined in our laws: our Constitution protects the right to practice free speech. Here in the United States, countless publications provoke offense. Like me, the majority of Americans are Christian, and yet we do not ban blasphemy against our most sacred beliefs. Moreover, as President of our country, and Commander-in-Chief of our military, I accept that people are going to call me awful things every day, and I will always defend their right to do so. Americans have fought and died around the globe to protect the right of all people to express their views – even views that we disagree with.

We do so not because we support hateful speech, but because our Founders understood that without such protections, the capacity of each individual to express their own views, and practice their own faith, may be threatened. We do so because in a diverse society, efforts to restrict speech can become a tool to silence critics, or oppress minorities. We do so because given the power of faith in our lives, and the passion that religious differences can inflame, the strongest weapon against hateful speech is not repression, it is more speech – the voices of tolerance that rally against bigotry and blasphemy, and lift up the values of understanding and mutual respect.
I liked this personal touch on how people call him awful things everyday. Heck, that's what public office is all about. Such weak public officials we have to create a law that in essence inhibits people like me who scrutinize and critique.

I'm still baffled at why the Palace signed this bill into law. Possibly incompetence.

Oh wait, could this be libel?