Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Two rules of life

I was reading this story headed "Moms Who Don't Breastfeed More Likely to Develop Type 2 Diabetes," and it said pretty much what the headline promised. It does it by reducing mom's belly fat. That got me thinking about other cases where an event changes a little thing with  unexpected results, such as that selecting for tame foxes makes their coat variegated, their tail curly, and their vocalization a bark, by  reducing the generation of adrenaline, and an increase in water temperature is killing some frogs, because it's now just warm enough for some fungus to grow.

And that got me to thinking about the two fundamental insights I have had, and that I have formulated into my two rules of life:

  • Rule 1: Everything is more complicated than you think it is. One little thing here affects a big or little thing over there in a way you don't expect. Sometimes it's a good thing; an unexpected effect of legalizing abortion was a moderate influence on the reduction in the crime rate years later, when the unwanted babies would have been prime crime age. Sometimes it's a bad thing; political strife in Congo forces an army to live largely on bushmeat, and chimps and gorillas edge closer to extinction.
  • Rule 2: People vary. This is the same as saying people are more complicated than you think they are. Growing up in the same family, brother David becomes a social worker, and brother Ted becomes the Unabomber. Two kids in an abusive household; one becomes an abusive parent, and the other doesn't. Or one kid gets out of the neighborhood, and another doesn't. Or two rich kids, or two anything. People vary along so many dimensions, and our genetics and especially our epigenetics vary in how much cortisol is released, and how one reacts to the cortisol, or oxytocin, or seratonin, or dopamine, or any hormone or neurotransmitter. We can say statistically that, say, experiencing certain things as a child is associated with hitting or not hitting your kids, but we can't say in any individual case, this will cause that, and we know that in some cases it won't; we just don't know which ones.
The policy implication of this is that one size does not fit all. Helping some kids probably means hurting others, and policy making is balancing the helps and hurts.
  • If you change the kindergarten age in order to make sure all the kids in the class are old enough for the curriculum, then some kids who were ready younger will have to spend an extra year in the minors. 
  • If you teach pretty much only math and reading in 4th grade, the smart kids will be held back. If you don't teach pretty much only math and reading, some kids will not learn to read well enough to follow the class work and will be lost to formal education.
  • Kids do better if they have smarter kids in the room, so separating the really smart kids into a single class is good for the one class and bad for everybody else. 
  • Any expensive special program, however justified, takes money away from whatever the money would have been spent on. If it is categorical money, then that just means the decision how to divvy up the money was made at a higher level of government.

Friday, August 27, 2010

It's all in the mind, or is it all in the brain?

This is a NY Times review of a book about differences in the brains of males and females called Delusions of Gender, by Cordelia Fine, an English cognitive neuroscientist.

Her summary: “Nonexistent sex differences in language lateralization, mediated by nonexistent sex differences in corpus callosum structure, are widely believed to explain nonexistent sex differences in language skills.”
I'm confused. I'm happy to believe that there are no differences in the brains of men and women not directly related to attracting men vs attracting women, because it fits my liberal prejudices so well. 

And it's easy to believe that a previous generation of scientists believed something that grew out of their own prejudices and that has become an urban myth.

She apparently dismantles some studies showing sex differences, but I thought there were lots and lots of studies that showed different behaviors among men and women. Okay, these could be learned, even by the time they're toddlers, and most studies are done on college students. But how about the studies showing men navigate using vectors and women using landmarks? Is the use of landmarks something we teach girls at the same time we tell them they are not good at math? 

And the study of the frontal lobe of the hypothalamus, which I'm pretty sure I think I remember is bigger in boys and men than in girls and women, both in number of cells and size of cells, and somewhere in between for gay men, which mediates sex drive in rats. Did that study turn out to be flawed?

I'm sitting here looking at the clock, thinking I have to get ready to go to work, and my mind is whirling with vague recollections of studies I've read about showing differences, both physiological and behavioral.

She seems to be saying that's all either wrong or cultural (sort of a cultural epigenetics, where what happens to you changes your brain). I guess I have to read the book.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

ADHD misdiagnoses

I'd never thought of this, but it sure sounds plausible. This study says one reason some kindergarteners are diagnosed as ADHD is that they are fidgetier than the other kids in class. One reason some kids are fidgetier than other kids in kindergarten is that they are a year younger than the oldest kids in class.

Kids born on December 1, who are the youngest kids in their kindergarten class California, are a year smaller and have a year less cognitive and social development than kids born on December 2 of the year before. This is why athletes and school leaders are disproportionately born in the early part of a school year, because that makes them a year bigger, smarter, and more coordinated than the kids born late in the cycle.

And the study linked to above says there may be a million kids misdiagnosed as ADHD. A million kids getting stimulants every day for years. I guess that's no worse than giving them bisphenyl A or organophosphates, which we do as a matter of government policy of acquiescing to corporate convenience. At least Ritalin doesn't screw up their sex hormones.

For the record, I was 4 years 6 months and 8 days on entering kindergarten; 4 years 6 months was the cutoff in California back in the Pleistocene. My mom had to go to work, and kindergarten was child care. She always regretted it. I was always glad. I wasn't the biggest, most coordinated, or most mature, but I was still the smartest. Although I guess it would be convenient to blame my character faults on it.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Effects of mom working during the first year

Child Development recently put out a monograph (sorry, no link; I'm reading an actual hard copy) on the effects on kids of mom working during the first year of their lives. The subjects were non-Hispanic Whites or African American, in the NICHD Study of Early Child Care.

For kids of moms working full time (but not part time), white kids (but not black kids) had significantly lower scores on some (but not all) cognitive measures at 3, 4.5, and in first grade.

But there were some advantages, too: more money, less stress over money (therefore less cortisol flowing in everyone), and putting the kid in a better preschool when she's 3.

The conclusion to the abstract says, "These results confirm that maternal employment in the 1st year of life may confer both advantages and disadvantages and that for the average non-Hispanic white child those effects balance each other." It's a gratifying conclusion, but I wish they had a comma coach.

Monday, August 23, 2010

More on measuring teachers in LA

I've been reading the LA Times articles on measuring teachers, and I wrote about  it briefly. I've also written about another way to measure quality in teachers.

The problem is the thing you're measuring. If short-sighted superintendents or boards of education base salaries or advancement on test scores -- or, put another way, if teachers know that how much money they make depends on teaching kids to do well on a test -- more teachers than we would like will teach nothing that will not be on the test, and a few will cheat.

So how should you evaluate progress in kids? And progress at what? As I said in the post linked above, this system is limited to regular cognitive progress, thinking and learning stuff. Art, music, athletics, leadership, socialization, writing poetry or fiction-- None of these is captured in the test the State of California uses to measure elementary school kids. Measuring any of them is possible, but probably not in a system that can be reduced to numbers. "Your brush strokes are 10% better than last year, but your imagery is 5% more derivative."

Another problem is that the value added system, as I wrote before, "assumes that the student’s life is steady, that the only difference between this year and the last three is the teacher. If a kid’s score was down last year because his brother was shot, then another brother will be shot this year, and the next. If his dad wasn’t in jail two years ago, he won’t be this year. Sometimes that’s true."

I guess the answer here is that if you look at scores of kids for every teacher, every teacher will average the same number of kids with brothers who got shot.

Prediction: In sum, we have a good tool to measure one aspect of kids' progress. It is cheap and easy to use and to understand. Every other part of measuring progress is difficult and would be very expensive. Therefore, school districts will inevitably slide toward using it as the sole measure, to the detriment of kids and teachers.

Some school districts will use the opportunity for bad teachers to learn from good ones. Others will use it as a way to prune the payroll when they have to make budget cuts.

And I think our only hope is to have the test reflect at least all the cognitive things we want kids to learn.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Friday follies on Saturday

This is a nest we found in our back yard. The interior is wound strands of fiber from palm fronds, and the exterior is cotton from our Pima cotton bush/tree. I think I'd have put the cotton inside, for softness, but maybe they wanted it more for insulation. I should have put in some scale. The fiber part is two inches across.

Friday, August 20, 2010

"Renovating" Maslow's pyramid

The press release is  headed "Maslow's pyramid gets a much needed renovation." The old and new:

This looks to me like the researchers putting their own values into a priority list and casting them as universal. It ain't so. I am a parent, but  one does not have to have children to be a happy and satisfied person. Darn, time to get ready for work again.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Another bad thing you can do to a fetus

Children who were exposed to organophosphate pesticides while still in their mother's womb were more likely to develop attention disorders years later. ... Organophosphate pesticides act by disrupting neurotransmitters, particularly acetylcholine, which plays an important role in sustaining attention and short-term memory. ... Many of these same UC Berkeley researchers are also finding that children with certain genetic traits may be at greater risk. ...

In the study on attention problems, researchers tested for six metabolites of organophosphate pesticides in mothers twice during pregnancy and in the children several times after birth. Together, the metabolites represent the breakdown products of about 80 percent of all the organophosphate pesticides used in the Salinas Valley.
The researchers then evaluated the children at age 3.5 and 5 years for symptoms of attention disorders and ADHD using maternal reports of child behavior, performance on standardized computer tests, and behavior ratings from examiners. They controlled for potentially confounding factors such as birthweight, lead exposure and breastfeeding.
Each tenfold increase in prenatal pesticide metabolites was linked to having five times the odds of scoring high on the computerized tests at age 5, suggesting a greater likelihood of a child having clinical ADHD. The effect appeared to be stronger for boys than for girls.
I'm not good at always washing fruit before putting it in the bowl nor veggies when I'm cooking, but this suggests that pregnant women, and people who cook for them, should fetishize washing fruits and veggies, make it as strong a stricture as not drinking.

My first thought is to ask why we are putting poisons like that on our food, and my second thought is the answer: We can't grow as much of the types of food people want to eat, as many people as want to eat it, at a price they are willing to pay, without industrial farming, which requires vast amounts of pesticides to sustain itself.

It's one of  those cases where the interests of the individual do not match the interests of the group. I would never use a pesticide on my home-grown tomatoes. I have some Safer Soap that I  haven't used in years, and I infused some olive oil with red peppers to spray on them, to try to deter the skunks, so I lose some tomatoes to bugs, but on the other hand, I don't eat any organophosphates with my tomatoes. (Terrible crop this year. Sparse crop of mostly mealy tomatoes. The one that has had any decent tomatoes is a Celebrity, but even it has had just a few tomatoes. Usually in August we're harvesting big basketfuls, but we're getting only a few per week, and them not very good. I blame the weather.)

But if the interest of the group is having enough food for everyone, we need pesticides, and a system for washing them off before we eat them. Maybe there's a way to clean them before packing at the grower. Keep the pesticide on the farm. 

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Child's Play blog

I want to recommend Child's Play. It's a blog about child development research by Melody Dye, a researcher in cognitive science at Stanford, and Jason Goldman, a graduate student in Developmental Psychology at USC. Right now they're doing a series of posts on dyscalculia (math dyslexia, more or less). They seem like they have good attitudes, know a lot, and write clearly about interesting subjects. What more could you want?

UPDATE: Jason has a related post on the origins of number representation at his other blog, the Thoughtful Animal. Jeez, there's a lot of good stuff mixed in with the crap on the internet.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Measuring teachers

Sunday's LA Times had another big article on Sunday, telling which 5th grade teachers in the LA Unified School District are good and bad, with names and pictures of a couple of the best and worst.

The Times got LAUSD to give them 7 years of math and English test scores and gave them to a moonlighting researcher from the Rand Corporation, who applied a statistical approach called value-added analysis.

They looked at test scores as percentiles, to control for home-life issues. If a kid scored int he 30th percentile because his mom is single, poor, and uneducated, so he got to kindergarten knowing half as many words as the other kids, he's probably going to score in the 30th percentile next year, too, unless he has a particularly good or particularly bad teacher.

The Times found that in some teachers' classrooms in the same school (which controls for neighborhood and local events), kids consistently raised their percentiles, and in others, kids consistently lowered them. Kids got better or worse compared with the other kids. The difference is attributed to teacher quality.

This has good and bad aspects to it. I think the methodology is nicely done. It's similar to an idea I had, but much simpler and cheaper. I've written before why and  how I thought we should measure teachers. And we already knew from a twin study and other research that some teachers are better than others at teaching reading.

This analysis I think accurately tells which teachers are good at having their kids score well on California's standardized 5th grade tests. To the extent that scoring well on those tests measures the quality of a kid's education, the analysis is valid to measure teachers. The Times' experts said they thought it should account for  a fraction of the measurement. (I forget what fraction they said, and the newspaper is all the way in the living room, and I can't find it in the online version. If I find it, I'll insert it, delete this sentence, and pretend I knew it all along.)

But you know that the cheap, easy, incomplete measure will become the sole standard in practice. And teachers will have even more incentive to teach to the test.

One thing I wonder about. Perry Preschool's educational advantage was all in girls. Boys showed improvement in not receiving social services as an adult, not being arrested, and owning their own home at age 27, but income and educational advantages were pretty much all for girls. So I wonder how the LA Times analysis would look if you separated girls from boys. And if you looked at boys arrest records after 10 years.

And so to work, with images of failing teachers and lost kids in my head.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Curing lebianism?

The LA Times had an article yesterday about a medical treatment that brings up an interesting philosophical question. Congenital adrenal hyperplasia is a rare condition in which a girl may develop "ambiguous genitalia," looking like they have a penis, which could, for some girls, be embarrassing. Something like a quarter of girls with this condition are lesbians.

But there is a treatment. It doesn't cure the underlying adrenal dysfunction, but it makes the girl develop normal looking female genitalia. (I guess I should  say "more typical genitalia.") It also has a side effect of feminizing the girls, making them girly-girls. And reducing the incidence of lesbianism to that of society at large.

The Times says gay and lesbian groups are outraged that any treatment that would reduce the incidence of homosexuality would even be considered.

I think they are wrong to be outraged. If gayness and straightness are morally equal (a proposition I'm not prepared to debate), then the issue is whether having ambiguous genitalia is harmful to girls. People vary, and some girls probably learn to deal with it. For others, it probably ruins their lives. My own guess is it would cause more withdrawal than zits or fat or stuttering ever could, and if we can prevent it, we should.

If a treatment for a fetal heart defect increased the percentage of girls born lesbian to 10%, I would have no problem with that. If an otherwise valid medical treatment happens to reduce the number of lesbians among these girls to societal levels, that's a situation, not a problem. Being a lesbian is not morally superior to being straight. The treatment is not to prevent lesbianism but to keep girls from growing a penis.

And these are not your kids. When your daughter has congenital adrenal hyperplasia, you talk with your doctors and decide what to do about your kids. Let these other mothers do what they think is best for their kids.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Puberty in second grade

I haven't written about the recent study about girls of 7 or 8 growing breasts and pubic hair, because several ideas were swirling in my head. I still haven't sorted them out, so I guess I'll just blurt them out.

There is a syndrome whereby toddlers grow breasts. I've always assumed something like that was some gene getting turned on by accident of DNA or of environment. This doesn't seem to be that.

Reported age of menarche has been dropping for a hundred and fifty years. Much of this seems to have to do with nutrition. Your body needs a certain amount of body fat before it figures it's ready to breed, and girls are getting that body fat younger than they used to.

Or it could be that a certain percentage of young girls have always done this, but medical books, written by men we  hope are not especially interested in 7- and 8-year-old girls, hadn't noticed. Because cadavers for dissection  used to come pretty much exclusively from poor people, there is at least one case where the size of an organ shrunk by a disease of poverty was taken as a standard. Maybe richer girls get enough fat earlier than the poor girls who formed the baseline for 19th century medical texts. (I love speculation about research; it's so much easier than actual, you know, research about it.)

Or it could be that all these organophosphates and other chemicals we're putting into food containers and the food itself are changing the average sexuality of girl humans. And boys.

Or it could be a combination of nutrition and some long-term genetic change. I'd like to know if it's happening in Botswana and Bolivia, too. Or cosmic rays from the hole in the ozone layer. Or the flying spaghetti monster willed it. I need to go get some more coffee.

Flower porn: Bauhinia

I don't have any new cat pictures, but our Bauhinia is blooming beside the kitchen porch. The nursery where we bought it labeled it Bauhinia purpurea, but I understand they are often mislabeled. Anyway, when we eat outside, which is most of the time anytime but winter, it's nice to look at in lieu of flowers on the table.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

People Who Are Angry Pay More Attention to Rewards Than Threats

The title, which is the Association for Psychological Science's press release title, pretty much says it all. More specifically, "Angry people spent more time looking at the rewarding pictures."

The implication for child development is that parents (or teachers) who are faced with an angry child (or teenager) are more likely to calm her down if you offer her something than if you threaten to take something away. It sounds like appeasement.

Crap. Time to get ready for work again. Gainful employment can be satisfying, but it cuts into so many other things.

How to pour champagne

It's by-God gratifying to know that in a time of social, political, and economic upheaval, some people can keep their priorities straight. Some French researchers have found that pouring champagne down the side of an angled glass, rather than straight down the middle in a vertical glass, preserves up to twice as much of the carbon dioxide, so it pops on your tongue, not in the glass. That could be their slogan. Keeping the champagne cooler also helps. They like 39 degrees Fahrenheit.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Another bad effect of stereotyping

You remember the study (sorry, no link) where a bunch of black or white college kids were given a series of tests, and in the first one, the subjects were told the researchers were just calibrating, and it wouldn't be scored. The second group was told it would be scored. The third was told it would be scored by race.

Black men scored the same as white men in the first test, worse in the second, and still worse in the third. As I recall, black women were not (as) effected.

A new study looked at something similar. They had two groups of women do a math test  to "determine whether or not they were capable and smart in math" after getting either supportive or stereotypic messages, and then later they tested them on aggression and self control.
"In these follow-up tests, the women who felt discriminated against ate more than their peers in the control group. They showed more hostility than the control group. And they performed more poorly on tests that measured their cognitive skills," says Inzlicht.
This explains so much. Stopping for Haagen-Dazs after a particularly unhappy job interview. Blowing up at the kid. My only caveat would be that I think they tested the people soon after the stereotyping occurred. It doesn't show that it persists, but I believe it does, when such slights continually occur.

This reminds me of Franz Fanon's The Wretched of the Earth, in which he says slaves become lazy and shiftless as a rational response to the condition of slavery.

The lesson for child care and development is not to stereotype kids, but we do with regard to sex, and we probably do with other characteristics, too, such as  income and race. State Preschool and Title 5 programs have to be on watch against teachers who stereotype kids based on the fact that mom brings the kid by bus or  looks tough, or tattered, or frazzled, or doesn't speak English, or wears a headscarf.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Poverty and preschool vocabulary

We all know that rich kids enter preschool and kindergarten with bigger vocabularies than poor kids, and this both predicts and influences a number of adult outcomes, but I didn't know the difference was so big. My new favorite blog is Child's Play, and the particular post I'm thinking of is Don't Bite: Does Self Control Determine Class. This is one of a series of posts riffing off the experiment where a kid gets one M&M or marshmallow now or two when the lady comes back into the room, and we watch the kids fidget. The type of people who read this blog would be very interested in the whole series.

One detail struck me:
“(c)hildren from welfare families hear on the order of thousands fewer words per day than children from professional families, leading to what Hart and Risley term a “meaningful difference” over time. While it is difficult to quantify the impact this impoverished input has on learning, many researchers believe the effect to be massive. Just to give you an idea – by the age of three, children from professional families actually have larger recorded vocabularies than the parents of the welfare families.”
Thousands more words a day heard. I'm assuming this means total words, not different words. But even so, how could this be? I see two obvious guesses: Maybe poor kids spend more time with no or fewer adults around than rich kids, or maybe poor parents talk to each other less.

Oh, crap. It's time to get ready for work, and I'm not finished with this. I wanted to talk about implications for preschool curriculum and public policy. Well, you go read the series at Child's Play, and I'll get back to this. Or more likely, I'll move on to something else. Oh, shiny!

Monday, August 9, 2010

Thinking you can do it, or not, affects your brain activity

The extent to which you believe you will succeed or fail at a task affects the resources the brain brings to bear on the problem. If you think you can do it, the brain shows greater activity than if you don't think you can do it.

And when people who thought  themselves either good or bad were faced with different scenarios, people who thought they were good at something had highest brain activity when they had a chance at a big gain, and people who thought they were bad at it had highest brain activity when they stood a chance of a big loss. (Big, in this case, was $5 compared to $1 for college student test subjects.

If it were possible to make oneself believe that one is good at something, one might well become better at it. I guess that's the point of Stuart Smalley's affirmations. If you think you can, you'll try harder, and maybe you'll succeed.

I wonder if affirmations work. That is, I wonder if telling yourself you're good enough at something does change the brain activity when you get to the actual task? People (okay, college students) weren't good at knowing how good they really were, which fits other research. If you really do think you're bad at it, can you lie to yourself and convince yourself that you are good at it? Maybe if you're real gullible, since you know what a liar you are.

The people doing the research are "working toward the development of implanted neural prosthetic devices that would serve as an interface between severely paralyzed individuals' brain signals and artificial limbs -- allowing their planned actions to control the limbs' movements," which is the coolest thing I've heard in months.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Toddler preacher

I found this on Greg Laden's blog at Science Blogs. I had a much different reaction than the commenters did. I won't embed the video, because this link also leads to a funny version with subtitles.

In general, I like Greg's blog. I enjoy dissing religion as much as anybody this side of Robert G. Ingersoll, and he talks about other interesting subjects. Greg's headline for this was "Yes, folks, it isn't just the priests engaged in the whole child abuse in the name of religion thing," and the entire commentary was "First, the horrific, over the top, original video:," and "Then, the funny version:."

The second one was funny, and the first one was over the top, but it was not horrific. It shows a toddler on stage in a church pretending to be a preacher. He has the moves down. He looks and sounds like a 2-year-old preacher bringing them home to Jesus. You can't make out many words (which makes the funny subtitles possible), but he has the intonations, so you could believe it was just poor sound quality making you miss words. He held the microphone to his mouth and stomped around the stage, doing a little James Brown stutter step as he passed behind the piano. He waved, he shouted, he hopped around, he twisted his little body. Adults shadowing him were feeding him lines, which he tried to repeat. People cheered and shouted, and at the end, he got a big hug from the preacher before he left the stage.

Commenters on the blog agreed with Greg.
  • "It takes a good bit of abusive conditioning to reduce little kids and babies to this."
  • "That's just child abuse. How could they believe that baby is saying anything meaningful. They are delusional."
  • "They also believe that the most important knowledge humanity would ever need was given to a bunch of superstitious goat-herders over two and a half thousand years ago - I can't say I'm all that surprised."
  • "It takes only minutes for a toddler to become a popular theologian. It takes decades for a dedicated student to become a respected scientist. This shows the fundamental difference between religion and science: one is making shit up, the other if finding things out."
I think they miss the entire point. I think the people in the church weren't looking at this kid as a preacher but as a toddler showing off for his parents' friends, and they were helping him pretend. I believe that these people's religious views are as false as the Greeks', but I believe they can't help it. It doesn't seem to hurt them personally much, though when it influences public policy it's always in the wrong direction, so we have to keep them away from policy, but they make enough money, have stable enough marriages (though not as stable as as atheists, on average), raise kids not to steal and kill any more than any other group, and are by and large happier in their ignorance than we are in our incremental knowledge system that approaches the Truth. (Do I need to put irony brackets around that? I thought not.)

Maybe I'm giving the parishioners too much credit, but I doubt very much that any of them believed the kid knew what he was saying. They were laughing at  him.

So while I think teaching this kind of religion to the kids is harmful in the general sense that knowing the truth is a Good and in the particular sense of creating voters with false ideas about, well, everything, it's not child abuse. It's giving a kid a chance to show off for the grown-ups, and that's cool.

Of course, if I'm wrong about this, and it turns out they regularly have him preach, because they think he's filled with the near-words of god, then I'll have to reevaluate my views of the parishioners. It's still not child abuse, but it would be dumber on their part.

Friday follies on Sunday

My how the time slips away when you get back from a 2-week vacation. Here's Old Cat lying among jacaranda blossoms. It's that season.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Prop 8

I am very happy about the Prop 8 decision. But I wish the judge had addressed the establishment of religion. Current law has the government deciding who can and cannot take part in a religious ceremony. One might as well have the government deciding who can be ordained or baptized.

You are who you are

A recent study says "Personality traits observed in childhood are a strong predictor of adult behavior." 

Yup. You are who you are, and you just get more of it as you age. From a group of 2400 kids studied in the 1960s, they found 144 of them 40 years later and found that:
Youngsters identified as verbally fluent – defined as unrestrained talkativeness – tended, as middle-aged adults, to display interest in intellectual matters, speak fluently, try to control the situation, and exhibit a high degree of intelligence. Children rated low in verbal fluency by their teachers were observed as adults to seek advice, give up when faced with obstacles, and exhibit an awkward interpersonal style.
Children rated as highly adaptable – defined as coping easily and successfully with new situations – tended, as middle-aged adults, to behave cheerfully, speak fluently and show interest in intellectual matters. Those who rated low in adaptability as children were observed as adults to say negative things about themselves, seek advice and exhibit an awkward interpersonal style.
Students rated as impulsive as adults were inclined to speak loudly, display a wide range of interests and be talkative. Those who were rated low on impulsivity were observed, as adults, to be fearful or timid, keep others at a distance and express insecurity.
Children whose teachers rated them as having a tendency to self-minimize – defined as humble, minimizing their own importance or never showing off – as adults were likely to express guilt, seek reassurance, say negative things about themselves and express insecurity. Those who were ranked low as self-minimizing were observed as adults to speak loudly, show interest in intellectual matters and exhibit condescending behavior.
This fits in so well with other studies showing perseverance of personality traits and political orientation.

So you can look around your classroom of 4 year olds and tell which ones you would like to be friends with 40 years later. 

Another prayer study

An associate professor in the religious studies department at Indiana University Bloomington went to Mozambique, to a Pentecostal faith healing group specializing in healing the blind and deaf. They tested the hearing and vision of some people, watched as the faith healer put his hands on them and made their ears hear and their eyes see. Then they published this in a journal as finding that proximity of the prayer is key to having it work.

I think it shows some people are susceptible to being gulled by faith healers. The people they tested were shills, and the people doing the "healing" were frauds who put one over on the "researchers."

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

$320,000 kindergarten teachers

A reader sent me a link to a New York Times article on the incremental monetary effect of good kindergarten teachers. It reports on some a report at a conference saying that, while the test score improvement provided by high-quality early education fades by middle school, test scores are not well associated with good adult outcomes, such as going to a good college, making more money, being married to a high wage-earner, or having a retirement plan, but the quality of one's kindergarten teacher is related to them.

The dataset was a study from the 1980s where they had randomly assigned 12,000 kids to kindergarten classes. The kids are now about 30, and how much they learned in kindergarten (a proxy for teacher quality) was related to how much they earned at age 27. And kids with some teachers learned more than kids with other teachers.

All else equal, they were making about an extra $100 a year at age 27 for every percentile they had moved up the test-score distribution over the course of kindergarten. A student who went from average to the 60th percentile — a typical jump for a 5-year-old with a good teacher — could expect to make about $1,000 more a year at age 27 than a student who remained at the average. Over time, the effect seems to grow, too.

They say that 1 standard deviation in improvement in teacher quality raises students' annual earnings by 2.9%, so the incremental lifetime increase in earnings for a classroom of 20 kids from moving out a 25th percentile teacher and moving in a 75th percentile teacher is $320,000.

They looked at all the other things, like teacher experience and class size, and they had minor effects, but this one stood out.

If this scales with good teachers later on, quality of P-5 education could have an enormous effect on lifetime income. It is the educational version of the miracle of compound interest. You have more to build on for longer.

It's not an argument for paying kindergarten teachers $320,000 a year, but it is an argument for starting them at $50 or $60,000 and the good ones working up to $100,000 (or some numbers; I don't actually know how much we should pay them, just more).

And it is an argument for figuring out which teachers are good and which are not and either teaching them to be good or helping them find another career.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Baby boys sleep lighter than girls

Baby boys die from SIDS more often than girls do, so it was not implausible that boys should be harder to rouse from sleep than girls, but it turns out to be not so. For the first month or so, boys are more easily awakened by a puff of air than girls are, and by 2 or 3 months, there is no difference. On to some other plausible reason.

And yes, I did have a very nice vacation, thank you.