Weekend Roundup and off to SF

VAWA passed! 68-31. Notably, Kay Bailey Hutchison, who engineered a substitute with Chuck Grassley, voted for it, and all 31 Republican men voted against it.

If you haven’t read Mona Eltahawy’s essay in Foreign Policy: “Why do they hate us?“, you should. Then you should go watch Melissa Harris Perry moderate a discussion between Mona and another Egyptian feminist, Leila Ahmed. (Samhita has it on her latest post at Feministing.)

In other news, today was my last day of teaching this semester. Agreeing to attend a conference the last week of classes was not the smartest thing I’ve ever done, but all in all, I think I’m ready. I’ll be in San Francisco for the Population Association of America meetings (PAAs) from Wednesday to Monday, attending sessions, tweeting about demography and families, and eating a lot of good food. Apparently, events are already starting. I arrive Wednesday and will be going to the Economic Demography session on Wednesday afternoon and more. If you’re in town, my session is on Friday morning: 96. Stop by!

Session 96:
Child Health

Friday, May 4
10:30 AM – 12:20 PM
Continental Parlor 1
Ballroom Level

Chair: Laura M. Argys, University of Colorado at Denver
Discussant: Susan L. Averett, Lafayette College
Discussant: Anoshua Chaudhuri, San Francisco State University

1. The “Marriage Advantage” in Infant Health Outcomes: Evidence of Selection or Risky Behavior?Jennifer Buher Kane, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

2. Expectations of Support: Health Investments and Promises of Financial Assistance for ChildrenErin K. Fletcher, Gettysburg College

3. Parental Age at Birth and Longevity of Offspring in Centenarian Families: The Role of Biology, Social Interaction and CultureValérie Jarry, Université de Montréal; Alain Gagnon, Université de Montréal; Robert R. Bourbeau, Université de Montréal

4. The Psychological and Physical Well-Being of Involved, Low-Income FathersLetitia Kotila, Ohio State University

VAWA on the Senate Floor

The Violence Against Women Act is up for renewal this year and is now on the Senate Floor. While we shouldn’t be surprised in this contentious political climate that bills that formerly renewed with broad bipartisan support are suddenly fodder for filibusters and other nonsense, this one is really important.

A colleague and I were discussing the bill last night. She contends that some groups put things into the bill that were unnecessary, particularly in an election year, and that’s hampering its forward progress. But the response by some lawmakers to limit the usefulness of VAWA would have overwhelmingly negative effects, by putting women and their families in more danger, increasing stigma, and reducing reporting.

Some of the problems outlined with the Grassley-Hutchison substitute are here, but in general, the substitute shows an extreme lack of understanding of the problems associated with violence against women, gender-based violence, and external effects of increased penalties, stricter reporting and cooperation requirements and more.

#ReauthorizeVAWA on twitter

Testing, incentives, and low-achieving students, redux

Last week, a few kind words from a friend turned into an extended conversation about testing structures and incentives for teachers to help low-achieving students. Mark’s organization is unique and very cool because it targets the lowest achievers, students Mark posited are the least likely to benefit from the incentives provided by standardized testing to maximize the pass rate. Brett Keller responded with a link to a discussion of an article from the Review of Economics and Statistics that basically confirmed Mark’s thinking.

Below is a quick summary of a long, dense paper and lessons learned. In short, Mark, yes, research backs up your intuition. From “Left Behind by Design: Proficiency Counts and Test-based Accountability” by Derek Neal and Diane Whitmore Schanzenbach:

The use of proficiency counts as performance measures provides strong incentives for schools to focus on students who are near the proficiency standard but weak incentives to devote extra attention to students who are already proficient or have little chance of becoming proficient in the near term.

Students who might just need a little extra push to get to the passing mark are going to get any extra teaching effort that is encouraged by the testing system itself, and even may draw effort that might have gone to students at the ends of the distribution. It seems that this problem at least would unite parents of the highest and lowest achievers in protest. Low achieving students are left behind and high-ability students make no gains either. This system is clearly not beneficial to anyone except the marginal passers and ensures that low-achieving students never have an opportunity to catch up.

The continual process of raising the standards only makes worse the distribution problem. In their model, an increase in the proficiency standard necessarily increases the number of high-ability students receiving extra attention, thus decreasing the number of low-achieving students receiving extra attention.

The study was also repeated with low-stakes testing, where the individual student may have had something to gain by passing (not going to summer school), but the school had little to gain. The lopsided distribution of effort didn’t appear in these cases.

Derek Neal and Diane Whitmore Schanzenbach. 2010 “Left Behind by Design: Proficiency Counts and Test-based Accountability.” Review of Economics and Statistics 92(2); 263-283.

An abstract

Tuesday was Equal Pay Day, and appropriately, I met with the Vice-Provost to negotiate my contract for next year. He only wanted to give me a one-year contract the first time around, despite knowing that the Economics department needed me and wanted me for two years, so clearly, I was going negotiate again.

Through the course of our discussion, I began to get a little nervous about upcoming calls for papers, conference deadlines and the looming market. As I have told a few of you, I will be on the market again in the Fall, attending the American Economic Association meetings in San Diego in January, and filling out ridiculous numbers of applications as the year comes to a close. There’s lots to be done, but also lots to finish up–getting my dissertation out–and lots to start–new papers!

So, I’m trying to get some papers out and I think I’m close to getting this one done. It’s so hard sometimes, because it’s really so easy just to keep editing, keep running regressions and keep looking for other things to do. But I like this paper. I hope some editor does, too. Hopefully, next week I can share the whole things with you.

Abstract for “Match Quality and Maternal Investments in Children”, Working Paper, April 2012, Erin K Fletcher.

Marriage advocates suggest that the unstable environment caused by divorce can have adverse effects on children’s educational and behavioral outcomes. However, the causal assignment of poor outcomes to the divorce itself fails to take into account relationship quality and heterogeneity in place before or in the absence of divorce. I explore the link between heterogeneity of relationship quality and investments in children. I show that women who report less satisfaction in their relationships spend less time reading with their children. I test various theoretical mechanisms by which we would expect women to decrease their investments in a child using additional information about the match including argument frequency and whether the union dissolves in the future. The anticipation of a union’s dissolution is associated with a decrease in investments in children while the relationship is intact, but argument frequency and mother’s estimation of the father’s character do not have a significant correlation. The results suggest that subjective measures tell a more complete story about investments in children than indicated by future union status, argument frequency or parental quality.

Have a great weekend!

Tests, incentives, and low-achieving students

In the midst of my paper-reading/grading marathon over the weekend, I expressed some frustration on twitter and got some pretty wonderful responses from friends. In particular, one friend who runs a non-profit in DC sent me an immediate gchat, “I believe in you; you can do it.” It managed to snap me out of it and put a smile on my face, but then also morphed into a discussion about the quality of students’ writing. Mark’s contention was that writing skills have in fact declined over time, largely because composition, grammar, and spelling aren’t emphasized any longer in school curricula. It’s not tested, so it’s not taught. I confessed my inability to make a claim about the decline given my limited tenure as a teacher and lack of good comparisons. I think I’m a pretty good writer.

This resulted in Mark calling me arrogant, so I had to laugh a little when Mark’s recent blog post for Reach, Inc. had an arrogance-related title, but he also brings up another really important point regarding incentives and testing in schools.

It is true that incentives are not aligned to support the work we do. If a student comes to Reach reading in the 5th percentile, he or she can make 2-3 years of reading growth and still be labeled a failure on standardized tests. This means, in an environment with limited resources, it actually doesn’t make sense for a school to invest in that child’s learning. The incentives push schools to focus on those students that can go from failing to passing.

I’ll admit that I’m only cursorily familiar with the practices and rewards of the public school system and testing, but I am pretty sure that we haven’t it gotten right yet. A system that rewards or punishes based on the mean or median or a dichotomous pass/fail and ignores distribution and progress is necessarily going to leave a lot of students behind. As Mark suggests, it makes it near impossible for individual students to catch up, not only because it’s hard work, but because there’s little immediate reward for stakeholders to do the pushing. It works the same way with writing. There’s not a good way to test writing, so we don’t test it, and thus it’s not emphasized in school, leading to worse outcomes in writing.

Mark’s work reminded of a paper I saw presented at CU this winter. In an RCT in Togo (or Benin? The researcher was from one of those and did the work in the other) an experiment was set up to see how different incentives schemes could reward cooperation to study for standardized tests and how that affected student outcomes from different parts of the ability distribution. The results make cooperation look pretty good. I of course, cannot remember the job candidate’s name or the title of the paper, but I’m going to find it. Don’t worry.

Equal Pay Day

The end of the semester is starting to kick my butt, so posting here might be a bit light in the next couple of weeks. On May 2, I’ll be in San Francisco for the PAAs. If anyone else is going, I’d love to meet up and chat.

Today is tax day, and I was super confused why until Matt Yglesias explained it for me. I was a bit stressed about filing my local tax return on time yesterday (which, I don’t even really understand. Why can’t the state just collect it and distribute? Commonwealths, I don’t get it. Whatever.). It’s unclear to me whether it would have been late had I sent it today, but I guess better not to know, right?

As well as tax day, by coincidence, today is Equal Pay Day. As you might guess, it’s something I can get behind. So I’ve collected some links about Equal Pay. I totally had just planned to slap them up here, but (see above) I can’t even put up a link list without pontificating on something.

  1. Me, last week, on proposed language for new work law in Venezuela, as presented by a consortium of women’s groups.
  2. Text of Lily Ledbetter Equal Pay Act of 2009 (pdf)
  3. Mitt Romney and advisers refusing to say whether he’d support Lily Ledbetter Act
  4. Tweets on #EqualPayDay and #fairpay
  5. Stevenson and Wolfers on the subsidies for the rich that are written into the tax code, a class issue, but Betsy has also been vocal about how it subsidizes one-earner, two-parent families, essentially penalizing women who work. (if you didn’t see her on Up with Chris Hayes this weekend, check it out, she’s kind of a rockstar. Like a nerdy rockstar economist, but you know what I mean).
  6. Gender wage gaps by state from the National Women’s Law Center (h/t @Fem2pt0)
  7. Some facts from the National Committee on Pay Equity
  8. Colbert on the War on Women, Wisconsin’s Equal Pay Act, and Glen Grothman
  9. Clara Jeffrey and Monika Bauerlain of Mother Jones on women in journalism. Part of a bigger discussion within journalism about women writers. Not going to close the pay gap if women aren’t writing the big stories, too. (Me, earlier, on distribution of women writers/editors/reviewers in big magazines)
  10. Raise the minimum wage, from Bloomberg (h/t @price_laborecon 10 & 11)
  11. How to end the gender pay gap in seven steps, awesome post on The Nation from Bryce Covert
  12. Feministing has a good list as well. I’ll let you look at them yourself rather than repost them all.
  13. And because no discussion of feminism, apparently, is complete without a reference to a Ryan Gosling meme, here’s a nod to the same. (h/t @ridahb)
  14. Last, but not least, the Department of Labor’s Equal Pay Day release.

I’m sure more will come up during the day, so I’ll update, and feel free to send good ones my way. If by some chance you haven’t dressed yet, AFSCME says wear red to stand up for equal pay.

Hot professors get better evaluations

That’s pretty much the gist of the paper. Even controlling for things like age, confidence, etc., professors who are objectively deemed attractive are more positively assessed by their students.

It makes me curious, though. I wonder if there are premiums for being hot based on student and professor compositions. Perhaps departments like economics or physics–where the professors tend to be male and the students primarily male–see higher evaluations for their attractive female professors because they are more novel. Alternatively a sociology department, comprised of more women on both the professor and student side, might give a bigger boost to attractive male professors. The authors seem to acknowledge that this might be an issue given their strategy for selecting students to rate the professors’ appearance.

h/t Bill Easterly and the WSJ

Source: “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: Teaching Evaluations, Beauty and Abilities,” Michela Ponzo and Vincenzo Scoppa, Università della Calabria, Dipartimento di Economia e Statistica Working Paper (March) (via Ideas)

Equal pay for equal work, including housework

My twitter feed is abuzz with Romney’s claim that Obama is really responsible for the war on women. While I noted a few weeks ago here that the recovery has been slightly weaker for women, it’s certainly not true that women’s employment has decreased under Obama or that any specific policies enacted have had the goal of decreasing women’s employment.

Brian Beutler has a good post about it up at TPM.

Male-dominated industries took a hard, early hit during the recession. As those industries rebound, more jobs are going to men than to women. Conversely, women lost a huge number of jobs in states and municipalities as a result of teacher layoffs — a hemorrhaging that could have been stanched by Obama-proposed legislation to spur teacher hiring, which the GOP blocked.

Meanwhile, I’m reading proposed Venezuelan legislation for the new Organic Work Law (Ley Orgánica de Trabajo or NLOT) and marveling at the language put forth by a consortium of women’s groups. Case in point, one of the goals of the proposed legislation:

Visibilizar el aporte de las trabajadoras del hogar no remunerado a la vida social, y garantizar sus derechos laborales.

My translation: “Make visible the contributions to the social fabric of unpaid, female home workers and guarantee their workers’ rights”

The text is filled with language that appears to have the goal of being inclusive particularly of women’s contributions in the home. It calls for giving those responsible for “reproduction and life care” access to social security payments, “equal pay for equal work”, and up to 14 months paid maternity leave  I don’t have enough understanding of the law to say whether it’s a “good law” per se, but it’s incredible that so many women’s groups in Venezuela agreed to this proposed language.

Note that this isn’t the law, and might not ever be. But someone’s talking about it.

The text of the proposed law, in Spanish, was sent to me by Florangel Parodi, former Venezuelan Minister for Women. I’m happy to pass it along if anyone is interested.


The blogging bump (or I am a huge nerd)

I’ve been writing here, on this blog, for a little more than eight months. What started as a way to take a break from finishing my thesis and put down some thoughts about economics has turned into a big part of how I spend my time thinking about economics. Responding to tweets and news articles and other bloggers helps me formulate my thoughts about teaching and my research, and gives me a place to keep track of papers I’m reading. I find it much more useful than EndNote, but that’s perhaps more indicative of the way my head works than anything.

One partly unintended consequence is that I’ve gained a little notoriety. The first time Modeled Behavior tweeted one of my posts, my site stats shot up and I was so confused. I thought someone had made a mistake, then became nervous that Gary Becker had read it and was going to end my career, or something. When discovered the source and tweeted them (him? it? how do we refer to a hivemind?) to say thanks, the hivemind confirmed they had similar fears that elevated site stats were a result of pissing someone off.

With that, I’ve done a very non-scientific survey of bumps. My site stats have, on average, risen over time, but there’s still a noticeable difference when one of the more established economics bloggers tweets or reblogs my stuff. Also, I don’t always know who reblogs or retweets, so if you did and I didn’t mention you, it’s nothing personal, wordpress just didn’t indicate very well to me who you are.

By way of methodology, I wanted to calculate a percentage increase in day-over-day page views, as displayed by WordPress on the day of a tweet or mention. But stats will only let me go back far enough to see three of the bumps. So, the others are cobbled together from my memory. These posts all occurred between February 10 and April 10, 2012.

The biggest bump so far came from a combined DeLong/Modeled Behavior bump. I can’t separate them out with great confidence, but given the second biggest bump came from Modeled Behavior and the magnitude of daily hits was more than twice the sole MB day, so I’m going to give it to DeLong. It’s close though, for sure. Without further ado, my list of blogging bumps, in descending order of magnitude of percentage change (or as best I remember it) in hits on day I was tweeted/reblogged/whatever.

  1. Brad Delong (est. 1005%)
  2. Modeled Behavior (est 610%)
  3. Justin Wolfers (304%)
  4. Tyler Cowen (144%)
  5. Marc Bellemare (est 50%)
  6. Brett Keller (20%)

As I see it, my analysis suffers from a few big problems:

  • heterogeneity of tweets/posts might change click-through rates (did they retweet/reblog because I said something antagonistic about Gary Becker, or just mentioned them, or something else entirely? Did the retweet or reblog contain a link to this blog?).
  • Serial autocorrelation (If hits are high on one day, they’re bound to be high on the next as people read through recent blog entries and tweets, and when retweets were close together, I could be attributing hits to one when they belong to another).
  • Trend over time is also partially due to people coming back because they found me interesting (different, but related to 2, and impossible to know how big or small it is).
  • the time of day. It’s pretty well established that tweets in the morning and mid-afternoon get the most views (or so I am told–please don’t quote me), so retweets/blogs will have differential effects given when both I and the retweeter publish the post. I don’t control for this. (also, days on this blog are on Mountain Time. Colorado, I just don’t know how to quit you. No, really, I don’t know to change it.)
  • unknown retweets/reblogs
  • Popularity of other blogs. (For instance, MB bump came before the Time list of top tweeters came out, so their bump may be even bigger now)

Please don’t judge me (for not controlling for obvious variables. You can judge me for writing this post; that’s fine.)

Student thoughts on recent Gettysburg economics events

As the semester goes on, my Methods students have more and more tools with which to analyze current events in economics, and ideas they encounter in their classes. A few students put together some thoughts on their blogs about recent visitors including Nate on George DeMartino and Andy on Hanushek.

I’m happy to see my students talking about what they’re seeing, but it’s also a reminder that I may need to talk a little bit more about dummy variables before the semester is up.

My post on Hanushek and Reschovsky is here. Sadly, I didn’t make it to DeMartino.