To Close a Gap

The Telegraph, the British daily newspaper, reported yesterday that University of Oxford gave students extra time to complete their exams in mathematics and computer science in summer of 2017, in an effort to mitigate the achievement gap between men and women.  “Female [degree] candidates might be more likely to be adversely affected by time pressure,” explained the Board of Examiners.

What sort of message, I wonder, does this send to all the girls who aspire to become mathematicians, computer scientists, or other professionals in technical disciplines?  That women cannot compete with men on a level playing field?  That after decades of fighting for civil rights and gender equality it is time to cower behind a petticoat?  What about the female surgeon, airline pilot, and firefighter — do they get a few extra minutes, too?
Who else is entitled to a tilt in their direction, now that we are in the business of equalizing outcomes?  The New England Patriots have won their fair share of Superbowls, and so perhaps the Eagles should be allowed to field an additional player when they face off in the big game.
And what about those individuals who do not identify with the traditional binary gender classifications?  Who on this Earth stands fit to decide the fair and proper time adjustments in their situation?
Oxford, ranked number 1 in the World University Rankings by the Times of London, has raised some truly vexing questions.

A Winning Attitude

Some years ago I volunteered to coach a high school chess club.  Let me share some observations about the team members’ attitudes toward talent and ability.  My point will be illustrated well by the two top players, who I’ll call Player A and Player B.  From the beginning, both players were solidly ahead of the others in terms of playing strength.

Player A liked to think of himself as “naturally gifted.”  He loved to challenge much weaker players, and reveled in beating them soundly.  Sometimes he would offer odds (i.e., concede a piece at the start of the game), or contest multiple games simultaneously, to underscore his dominance.  On the other hand, he was utterly unteachable.  If I offered some advice about tactics or strategy or clock management, he would try argue with me.  And argue and argue.  And then he would go back to playing for easy wins against totally outmatched opponents — always seeking to validate his view of being blessed with a gift of chess talent, and blocking any evidence otherwise.  In the four years that I knew him, he didn’t improve even in the slightest.
Player B was was equally good, at first.  At least, that is my considered view, having watched both A and B routinely dispatch their adversaries.  They never played each other, though, because Player A always avoided it: a loss would have crushed his illusion of greatness.  Player B, on the other hand, was a coach’s dream.  If I told him about a better way to handle a game position, he would set up the board, and play that situation against me over and over, until the lesson was internalized.  He had no problem losing.  He didn’t lose often, but sometimes he did so to test an idea, try out a different plan, or teach himself a new technique.  His strength increased rapidly, and by the end of one season he had clearly surpassed Player A.  The difference was this:  talent, to Player B, was something to be acquired by the steady investment of one’s efforts and energy, not a gift, to be sheltered and displayed like a precious jewel.
There is a lesson here for teachers and parents.  When children succeed, we should praise them — perhaps not so much for their talent, but for their dedication and persistence.  When they fail, we encourage them to try harder next time, and discourage the self-defeating attitude that they’re “no good at it.”   Recognize them less for what they are, and more for what they have done.  With our words, our actions, and our example, we thereby cultivate the mindset of a Player B.

Teacher Collective Bargaining Hurts Students

I came across an interesting study performed by Michael F. Lovenhiem and Alexander Willen, both of Cornell University.  Titled “The Long-Run Effects of Teacher Collective Bargaining,” this study analyses the effects of teacher collective bargaining laws on life outcomes of the students.  More specifically, the study examines how the people educated in a state were affected after a state had enacted a duty-to-bargain law for public school teachers. 
A link to the original study appears here (along with related studies on the societal effects of public sector unions):
An article based on that study appears in EducationNext, a website sponsored by the Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government.  Here is a link to it:
The results are startling.  According to the article, “students who spent all 12 years of grade school in a state with a duty-to-bargain law earned an average of $795 less per year and worked half an hour less per week as adults than students who were not exposed to collective-bargaining laws. They are 0.9 percentage points less likely to be employed and 0.8 percentage points less likely to be in the labor force. And those with jobs tend to work in lower-skilled occupations.”  The study further notes that “teacher collective bargaining reduces [their students’ total] earnings by $199.6 billion in the US annually… [and] leads to sizable reductions in measured cognitive and non-cognitive skills among young adults.”

The authors report that “Collective-bargaining laws strengthen teachers unions and give them greater influence over how school districts allocate their resources. A typical collective-bargaining agreement addresses a remarkably broad range of items: unions negotiate over salary schedules and benefits; hiring, evaluation, and firing policies; and rules detailing work and teaching hours, class assignments, class sizes, and nonteaching duties. By increasing union membership, collective-bargaining laws also heighten the influence of teachers unions in education politics at the state level….  Critics of teacher unionization argue that collective bargaining in public education has reduced school quality by shifting resources toward teachers and away from other educational inputs and by making it more difficult to fire low-performing teachers. Stronger unions may also have made it  harder for states to adopt policies aimed at improving school quality through enhanced accountability or expanded school choice…. Our evidence points to the conclusion that collective bargaining in public education has been a bad deal for American students.”

Fortunately, in Virginia, public sector employees are prohibited from collective bargaining, absent specific statutory authorization.  This study affirms that this is the right policy for our state.