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I’m going to stay at a controversial stuff today. I’m going to relay an antidote that is related to the discussion about reading.

About 15 years ago, I was stationed in South Carolina. I had a lot of kids.

Two of my kids were in third grade I believe. And one was maybe in ninth grade, and she was struggling with Algebra 1. I have more kids but they are not germane to the story.

Anyway, my 14-year-old, Was spending every night crying at the dinner table about algebra, as parents were getting frustrated, her grades were bad, it was just a bad situation.

At random, I happened to read this article in the LA Times that floated this hypothesis that the reason so many kids struggle with algebra is because they do not learn their multiplication facts to mastery.

That day, I went home and I actually gave my ninth grader a multiplication fact test. I sat there and watched her struggle with the multiplication facts. I watched her use all these finger tricks, and count by fives, and all these other strategies.

Remember my 2 3rd-graders. Coincidentally at this time they were learning their multiplication facts. I started talking to them, and sure enough they were learning all the same little tricks and short cuts. There was very little memorization.

that night, I ordered this multiplication fact flashcards set from online. It had something like 144 cards. Every multiplication fact from 0 to 12.

When it came, I drilled the fuck out of my kids. Yes, including the ninth grader. It became a game. We would have competitions. We started with the ones and twos, and then went all the way through the deck. Within about four weeks my kids could spit out multiplication facts like nobodies business.

I then started doing reverse multiplication facts with them. I would show them the answer, and have them tell me every combination that multiply to be that number.

See, I had started researching algebra, which I realized was basically all predicated on factoring, which was basically predicated on knowing your multiplication facts the opposite direction as well.

There is a happy ending. My ninth grader ended up getting an a minus in that class.

Every single one of my kids has kicked ass in math since then.

Especially algebra.

For a while I got into educational blogging. In fact my blog is still out there.

I read so much about phonics, and teaching math, and educational theory.

The biggest problem with these fuzzy instructional methods is that middle class kids I have parents that can basically supplement help or a job the schools do. Parents will sort of naturally give phonics lessons at home. Parents will buy math flashcards.

But other kids, who don’t have the same resources at home will struggle, and these critical skills are the backgrounds to education for the rest of their lives.

It’s made me pretty skeptical about the field of education. Go read about the largest educational study ever conducted, called project follow through.

They tested a bunch of teaching methods, and literally only one method showed significant positive affects. I’m not even going to tell you.

Anyway, if you have kids I suggest you buy a good pack of flashcards, and make sure that your kids learn those multiplication facts to mastery.

My kids favorite game was war. You give them half a second to answer the flash card, they get to keep it if they get it right, you keep it if they get it wrong. Then make a big deal about when you lose. Kids love that. The day that they win all those cards, you should see how proud they are.

OK, I got a head to the airport I’m heading to Des Moines Iowa today. Goodbye El Paso.

Yes I dictated this, my eyes don’t work well in the morning so please forgive any grammatical errors.

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>>” But other kids, who don’t have the same resources at home will struggle, and these critical skills are the backgrounds to education for the rest of their lives.”

Bingo. And we all too often sweep this under the rug in the name of equity when it is perhaps the greatest cause of inequity. Schools can and should deliver adequate foundational reading and math instruction. Everything else pales in comparison. My years of teaching 9th graders who couldn’t read beyond an elementary school level taught me the importance of a systematic phonics system. What’s so amazing is that, like your flash cards, the actual time needed isn’t that much. 25-30 minutes a day of phonics when elementary schools usually have a literacy block that is three hours long really isn’t a difficult ask.

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Actually, I’m of the opinion that highly educated parents are actually bad for our education system as a whole.

They take their influence for granted, so they’re more likely to push all sorts of fuzzy instruction methods like inquiry learning, or project-based learning. Sure their kids might benefit from this, but only because they have learned the basic facts.

The simple fact is kids need to have direct instruction on certain basic skills.

Too many education schools and teachers have mistaken correlation for a causation. They see these high-performing kids who do well with fuzzy curriculum, and then jump to the conclusion that they can use this fuzzy curriculum for all kids.

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It's also intimately linked with tracking and gifted classes. If you get the smart kids and their parents out from underfoot you have the leeway to focus on getting the basics taught well to the remainder.

If their kids are stuck with the (to their minds) "dumb kids", then they're going to use their disproportionate influence and time to turn the curriculum into a gifted curriculum that blows off the basics.

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Huh, never thought of G&T programs as being useful there.

Makes intuitive sense(doesn't mean it's true!), wonder if it's been studied.

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When economists looked at this in Chicago they found that adding "gifted" classes lead to substantial gains for the students in the gifted section, with the largest gains among Black and hispanic students. They didn't find any positive (or negative) effects on the students in the non-gifted class https://www.aeaweb.org/articles?id=10.1257/aer.20150484

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"If their kids are stuck with the (to their minds) "dumb kids", then they're going to use their disproportionate influence and time to turn the curriculum into a gifted curriculum that blows off the basics."

To be clear, I am pretty sure that this never works well enough for the strong students to end up happy either.

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I would not argue with that.

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One of those situations where, if they're in the tent, they're going to piss in it.

If you boot them out politely and give them a pat on the head, they'll dig a fucking latrine over in their own space.

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Someone I know works in both education research and tutors k-12 kids in math. While the field is getting better, she describes a real lack of rigor. Focus is on correlations, tiny sample sizes, and not really digging into figuring out if something works or not. As a tutor, she's always focused on hammering in the basics until they're second nature, but that kind of thinking isn't very fashionable in those circles.

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Not fashionable at all.

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> The simple fact is kids need to have direct instruction on certain basic skills.

Another fact is that teachers - that is, people who major in K-12 Education - learn to teach in K-12 from people who only teach college students. So their education in pedagogy comes almost entirely from people who practice pedagogy tuned for instructing professionals in matters of judgement and intellectual synthesis (how to write essays is a good example). There's basically no means by which the lessons learned by experienced K-12 teachers are promulgated back into the academy.

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true. plus in their mind, direct instruction is boring and not cool. It has no fancy words... therefore its beneath them.

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I spent a decade of my spare time tutoring the children of panicked parents fearful their children would not be allowed to attend university. The Province of Ontario had decided that three passed courses of high school math were necessary to be eligible to attend university. My main take away from this work was that high school math teachers suck at their jobs. Every single student I tutored succeeded. They did so because I bothered to analyze what mistakes they consistently made. Aside from the arithmetical skills you drilled your children on you have to understand basic properties of math. You have to understand order of operations and distributive properties and associative properties and commutative properties. The thing I noticed is that students often lacked these insights and constantly made the same errors. This should have been as evident to their teachers as it was to me. And it was all fixable. So I fixed them. Among them are several able professionals. Not STEM students mind you but how much algebra does a lawyer need to know?

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Yes. That is the next step. Order of operations.

It’s not as glamorous as multiplication facts.

Math is nothing but a bunch of small rules that you add up.

We have to master each and every rule.

Sounds like you do an awesome job.

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Re your last point: more than you’d think. When I was in Iraq in 2008, I attended a briefing on an irrigation water pump conducted by the senior engineer of a US infantry division. He was a civil engineer in civilian life.

As the briefing proceeded, I realized that he was “plotting a slope” and that I now had an answer to an age old question: “when will I ever need to do this stuff?”

I called my kids as soon as the briefing was over and got them to speak with an army brigadier general about how useful math could be.

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That Army Brigadier General might actually have only 1 arm!

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Another problem high school students have is not understanding how fractions work. You cannot learn algebra if you don't understand fractions.

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Excellent point. My thinking is that multiplication is basically the precursor to a division. And fractions are basically a form of division (mixed in with multiplication).

So many things you need to master, that schools just don’t seem to do a good job of.

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I did a session or two helping out at a community college remedial algebra class, and the #1 problem was not understanding fractions. This was more than a mechanical problem; the students didn't understand what fractions represent.

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I wonder how many of them also didn’t know their multiplication tables to mastery.

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Not understanding that 2/17 is bigger than 2/43 is not a matter of knowing multiplication tables. But some of these students would pull out their calculators to add two one-digit numbers.

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Algebra is actually very useful for a deal lawyer, bluster and intimidation more important for a trial lawyer. Calculus won’t hurt either of them, but isn’t a critical skill,

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It's a lot more difficult to deal with individual mistakes having a class with 30 kids. That said, this is exactly why reading and math groups are important.

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Yes! Reduce class sizes. That means having more classrooms and more teachers and paying them. That means increasing taxes. Hope everyone is good with that.

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For our son, we used two 10-sided dice. We'd roll them, and he'd have to announce the product of the numbers on the two faces. We'd time it: how many could he do in sixty seconds? He's very competitive and he got very fast in short order. Come to think of it, we could have used 20-sided dice for more facts, but we didn't.

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Oh man! As a DnD nerd, I definitely have a few d20 laying around! Gonna write this down for when it's time to start drilling multiplication with my kids!

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Rory, I tutored the big STEM weedout courses as a Student Support Services (a Great Society program!) tutor at UConn and you are one million percent correct here. Every time I hit a snag with calculus, I'd start drilling algebra. Hit a snag with algebra, start drilling arithmetic. Each layer of math builds on the last, and you can't do algebra if your arithmetic isn't automatic, and you can't to calculus if your algebra isn't automatic.

General Chemistry was the same way. Big weed out course, and all these kids think they suck at Chemistry, but really their algebra just needed work. All GC is is applied algebra, the entire time.

I was lucky enough to have a first grade teacher who drilled phonics, and a fourth grade teacher who drilled multiplication tables. The single best way to get fundamental skills down like that is to drill baby drill.

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Wow... even in College. It was pure luck I discovered it. The 14-year old that I taught is about to finish her Masters degree in Social Work, but she had no issues with College Algebra and Statistics.

Every single one of my kids has kicked ass once I figure out this little secret.

It's such a simple hack that it blows my mind people don't realize it.

Even drilling can be fun. Its not like you have to do it for hours a day. Just 15-30 minutes a day. Make it a game.

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I’m at the airport now, I figured I would elaborate what I learned about multiplication facts and algebra.

First of all, what I am talking about here also applies to long division and calculus and all sorts of other things.

The basic premise is that people only have so much working memory. Algebra is sort of a multi step thinking process. You have to take these numbers figure out what products make up each one, then how they add up individually, along with whether it’s going to be positive or negative. Just writing that was tiresome. Human beans are only capable of storing so much knowledge and using it at a single instance.

When you master things like phonics or multiplication, basically becomes like muscle memory. You’re working memory doesn’t have to spend any time trying to figure out what five times six is.

Now imagine trying to factor a problem, Where you have to use your fingers to figure out multiplication facts. And even more than that, you have to do it in reverse.

It’s such a basic concept, but you would be amazed how many schools do not drill multiplication.

Honestly, go check with your kids. Give them a multiplication test. More than a few of you might be shocked.

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Yes, many many people have difficulties with advanced calculus because they can't instantly implement in the chain-rule on an arbitrary expression, or because they didn't memorize all of the common trig identities. It's like trying to read Shakespeare when you can't remember how to pronounce half the words.

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I have no idea what those are. But I will take your word! I never did advanced calculus.

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Basically it's turtles all the way down. When someone is teaching you an extremely non-intuitive concept you need to be able to focus on the mechanism that makes it work... not the mechanics of to go from one step to the next.

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Makes me appreciate the rote match drilling I received from the Good Nuns in 40-student classes. When working as a city manager, Finance was always shocked at how quickly I could deal w large numbers. I agree, it's all about basics.

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It doesn’t even take that much time and effort to teach these facts. 20 minutes a day, for a month or two, and they’re down for life.

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My phone has an alarm setting where I have to do a basic multiplication-and-addition to turn the alarm off (something like "7 x 6 + 4"). I use it because if I'm awake enough to get the right answer, then I won't fall back asleep after turning the alarm off, which is a problem I used to have with other alarms.

But, believe me, if you want to silence a blaring noise and a bright light when you are half-awake, knowing your basic multiplications without thinking too hard becomes really important.

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I need that app for my kids. They are notorious snoozers.

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"Wax on, wax off" basically.

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All of that could be true but it doesn’t seem to have a long term impact.

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I have a 65 mustang and 65 C20. I’m sitting in seat 4C on my next flight. My shoes are brown.

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What is: "Tell me you're an elitist prick without telling me you're an elitist prick"?

:p

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Lol. More like… What are facts that aren’t germane to the conversation.

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How do you mean? I'm pretty sure having good command of Junior/Senior year math tracks pretty well with getting into an elite college.

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You’re assuming failure to master the math is due to a pedagogical failure rather than a lack of elite college level ability.

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On some level pedagogy obviously makes a difference. Unless your position is that it is simply not possible to be taught things.

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I’ve mentioned many times that my position is that above a fairly low level of competence it won’t have a beneficial long term impact.

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This is an amazing comment which I think has the potential to be made into a feature-length film. Who would you like to play you? Your kids who didn't make it into this version can also be in it and will have minor story arcs.

But seriously, that was awesome. Thanks!

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Matt Damon! I would say Tom Cruise, but he is my wife’s free pass, and I don’t want to tempt fate.

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Ah, good choice. He already has experience playing an unpretentious math whiz in Good Will Hunting, but now he's old enough to have a 9th grader.

Unfortunately I'm not actually a studio executive, but hopefully somebody on here is and will see this and pick it up.

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I taught Pre-Algebra in a Title 1 charter school in New Orleans from 2016-2019. Most students were two or three years behind grade level. There's been a considerable shift away from what opponents describe as "drill-and-kill" pedagogy. I've never been convinced that any student can develop critical thinking skills in numerical analysis without having a rock-solid foundation in multiplication and ratios. Unfortunately, too many in the education space think otherwise. This seems similarly related to the debate about phonics.

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I find it quite frustrating and counter intuitive. Anyone who's trained in music or sports knows that you have to have the fundamentals down pat before you can even start doing anything complicated or interesting. Same goes for math and reading. It's not fun, but you have to do it.

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I am a full-time musician, drummer, and I agree completely, that you need to have the fundamentals of playing the instrument down ice cold, starting with how you hold the drumsticks correctly. Everything builds from there.

Here's a question for any other musicians who teach: Have you noticed that students that are in the 5th and 6th grade, have a hard time writing out musical notes on staff paper? They don't teach cursive writing in a lot of schools anymore, so you don't get that fine muscle development in their strong hand. Having that fine muscle control in your strong hand, throws a switch in the brain, that allows your weaker hand to develop a certain level of the same fine muscle control. Thoughts?

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I mean, one reason you don't see teachers intensively drilling individual students using flash cards is they have a classroom of like 50 kids to teach math to; drilling each one in turn until they got it would take too long. And what would the other kids do while they were waiting their turn, or after?

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I suspect the education space, particularly at the academic theorist level, tends to attract people who disproportionately do not love, and sometimes even resent, math.

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There are a disproportionate number of articles written about why we need more women or POC or anybody in STEM written by people who aren’t in STEM.

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The military adage "those who cannot do, teach" comes to mind often when I look at the education space.

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When I was a first-termer in the Air Force, we used to say, "Those that can do, do. Those that can't do, teach. Those that can't teach, administrate. Those that can't administrate become officers."

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I'm retired Air Force. What did you do?

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I was a musician in the Air Force. The drums. 2 years in a career field band at McGuire AFB in NJ, and 24 years with the premier band, The United States Air Force Band in Washington, DC. I retired as a SMSgt. I tested for Chief, didn't make the cut, and was at top cap, so welcome to retirement and the second career, which was playing music and doing some private teaching. Until Covid, I was playing regularly, and was scaling back the teaching. Once things get back to normal, I'm finally going to sign up for some space-A flights, and just go where the planes go. From there, I'll find another hop to somewhere else. If I want to go to Germany, for example, I don't need to fly into Germany. I can fly to any base on the Continent, and then take a train the rest of the way. I really want to see Berlin again.

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Eh, I wouldn't be that harsh. There are lots of great teachers out there at the practitioner level, including math teachers. And it's a pretty diverse (personality-wise) profession. I'm really just talking about *education policy academia* which is dominated by folks within a narrow range of personality types.

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Which schools? I have this vague memory that there were some very successful charter schools in New Orleans that utilized direct instruction and were pretty successful.

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100% can confirm. My wife has a PhD in Nuclear Engineering. Her Dad drilled her with flash cards growing up and made it a fun game. She would not be where she is today without that.

I’m more of a liberal arts guy, but I still remember my “times tables” from school - I can visualize them.

With my own kids and their assignments I had to figure out what gimmick was being used - often some combination of groups of dots. Some of the methods were clever in a good way, but I thought a lot of it was just crap. We got flash cards too.

At the schools here where I’m at still use simple tests to measure speed and accuracy for the basics.

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Speed and accuracy are underrated. I probably should’ve emphasize that I did not consider a kids with mastered anything until he could see it within a split second. In our games, any hesitation was a loss for the kid.

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Back in 1960 when I was in first grade, our class was chosen for a new method of teaching math called the Cuisenaire Rod System. Consequently, I struggled through math all the way through high school, barely passing Algebra 1 and Algebra 2. I didn't even attempt Geometry. Out of the colleges that accepted me, I majored in Music Education, I chose the one that allowed you to either take a math or science course, rather than both. I thought I was in the clear after taking a course in Environmental Biology, which had no math, just a bunch of theory about how to make cleaner water.

After 3 years, I left college, because I wasn't sure that I wanted to continue becoming a music teacher. I spent 2 years studying privately with a teacher in New York City, lived at home in my parents' basement (literally, because that's where the drums were set up), practiced 6-7 hours per day, and landed a gig with the Air Force. I spent 2 years in a regional band, and 24 years with the premier band in Washington, DC.

I decided at about age 40 to go back to school. I was accepted by the University Of Maryland as a music major. One of their requirements for a BA in Music, was a course called Finite Mathematics. I knew there was no way that I was going to be able to pass a college-level math course, so I hired a private math teacher.

At at our first meeting, she gave me a math test that started at 1+1, and continued all the way up to some advanced form of Calculus. She said, "stop when you no longer understand what you are doing." It didn't take long. She told me that I had fallen down on the development of basic math skills somewhere between 1st and 2nd grade. No wonder I had struggled all those years. She started me right from the beginning with the basics. Addition and subtraction drills, multiplication and long division, fractions, sets, etc. Once I had the basics down, the rest of it suddenly became fun, rather than my remembrance of 12 years of public school math torture. Yes, I was a victim of the so-called "New Math." Now, they have this Common Core math, where there are at least 10 steps to get from 1+1=2. I maybe be exaggerating, but you catch my drift.

Once I had the basics down, the rest came naturally. It's the same thing when learning a musical instrument. You have to have the basics down cold, or you won't progress anywhere.

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my kid got optional homework from Kindergarten with the teacher saying "you can really tell which kids do the homework." And it's like ... are the kids who really need it going to be the ones who do it?

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I’m actually anti-homework. Except for maybe a small amount of mastery.

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Agreed, beyond phonics and the times tables, every kid is better off in the back yard with his pals sucking up dirt and looking for bugs like EO Wilson.

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As long as the dirt doesn't have lead dust in it.

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Me too. We moved here (Colorado) three years ago youngest was in an elementary school with a no homework policy. So refreshing after dealing with the stupid make-work of previous schools. But he started middle school this year which has homework and the adjustment has been….difficult.

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yeah i don't think its massively helpful but i appreciate seeing what she is learning at school anyways.

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Yeah, currently hitting a brick wall with IB algebra with my 15 year old. She has never been great at math, but typically in the "meaty part of the curve" and having helped her through some homework recently the fact she didn't have memorization of times tables and so on drilled back when she was little definitely isn't helping. Also 100% agree on the flashcards although I didn't really use them myself, I pretty much improvised something equivalent with my mother back in the day.

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Make sure you get a pack of flashcards that does not duplicate. That means it has 3×4 card, and 4x3 card.

She needs to be able to spit them out with in a split second.

Then, once she can do that 100% of the time. Start showing him cards with the answers. And then make her spit out all the combinations that make up that number.

So for instance. 12 is 1x12, 2x6, and 3x4

She needs to be able to do that by mastery as well.

There are obviously other rules and tricks to learn. But if she doesn’t have to think about these with her work in memory, chicken be more likely to learn the other stuff.

Best of luck, I have been there before.

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I remember my kids taking exactly that course. After spending money on a tutor (a retired HS teacher), we received the advice you offered here- get your basic math facts down cold.

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In hindsight, it seems so simple and obvious. Yet, after decades of mass wars and arguments about education… Kids are still not learning these basics.

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The argument was always that the basics are not fun. My warped mind also believes that our education system is designed to fail a certain percentage of our population, so that they can become "clients" of the social services industry.

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I am not that cynical.

My thinking is its really hard for many people to think outside their priors.

Hardcore partisans have this issue.

I just think a certain number of teachers are either so naive, or so jaded they are unable to consider alternatives to how they "want" the world to be.

I'm of the...play the game with the rules you have, not the rules you wish you had mentality.

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Hell yes. Memorization saved me as a first grader, and I haven't looked back since.

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My elementary school did the group competition thing with flash cards and really drilled the memorization of arithmetic through the 9s. We learned the theory behind it AFTER so that it could be extrapolated to bigger numbers.

As I'd said earlier, I come from a family of educators and married into a family of educators. My mom taught high school and her biggest frustration was trying to teach literature and writing when so many students lacked even elementary-level reading and writing skills. I think outstanding teachers manage to identify and remedy some of those deficiencies on the fly but it really shouldn't get to that point.

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Good story Rory. My grandfather, who rode a horse every day 10 miles to a one-room schoolhouse, memorized the times tables up to 25 and used to practice them in bed as a way to go to sleep. He died at 99, still sharp, 23x19 on his lips as the family legend goes. Your story of what you did for your daughter's math struggles resonated with me, because it so mirrored my experience with my daughter's English struggles. Public schools are important, but there's no substitute for engaged parents paying attention, having flash cards when needed, and the importance of memorizing the basics.

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All day I've been trying to figure out if this story was serious.

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The best way to make reading relevant to a kid is to give them and ipad and make them use google to find the content they want. my second grader reads very well but has almost no interest in books. he prefers articles on whatever interests him at the time

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When I was growing up we had a set of encyclopedias. I would spend hours looking up subjects. Cowboys or tanks or how an internal combustion engine works.

It’s amazing how much knowledge we have in our fingertips now.

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founding

We had these too. Also an atlas-type thing with two pages on every country in the world. I also clearly remember getting the new Guinness Book of World Records every year at Christmas and reading it cover to cover.

Also, in 3rd grade, every morning we did a "Mad Minute" worksheet of multiplication questions that you could only progress from once you hit a certain score multiple days in a row. We must have stopped at 10s because I'm really not great at multiplying by 12 but have had the rest down since then.

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I went to elementary school in Minnesota in the early '90s and could absolutely not learn to read well with the "whole language" instruction given. My sisters kind of intuitively learned phonics, but I wasn't having an luck with that. It took me just a couple months with Hooked On Phonics to catch up the summer before second grade, admittedly because my language comprehension was way above my reading level since my mom read to me so much. If my parents' hadn't invested a lot of time and effort in enrichment activities, I'd probably be slinging a mop at McDonald's and hardly be able to read my bank account app instead of holding down a lucrative position in a STEM field.

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So, I don't trust the schools basically at all with my son. He's getting extra home instruction and tutoring right off the bat. I want him to hit the hard stuff and fail before he encounters it in real school and gets a bad grade. I also disagree with the homework policies I've seen with my friends' kids. For me, sitting your butt down and doing some crap you don't want to do is a skill in itself and one you should start building early.

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I’m anti-homework. But that’s a whole different debate.

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Do you have a link to a good argument for that? Just curious what it is from someone who seems reasonable and thoughtful. I have heard it doesn't increase performance at grade level skills, but that's not particularly why I see it as important.

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Call Nell it’s not that I am zero homework. But I feel that the purpose of homework should only be to reinforce what a child has learned in school. For instants in my example above, having a kid come home and do a couple of simple multiplication sheets would be good.

Too often, teachers underestimate the amount of time and effort it takes to do some of these homework assignments. And then I’ll forget the kid has multiple classes here imagine if the teacher games 30 minutes of homework, and four other teachers give 30 minutes. Now your kid is trying to do 2 1/2 hours of homework in the evening when they really should be playing.

Then if you’re like me with a bunch of kids you have seen some just terrible homework assignments. Think… coloring a picture for history class. And every diarama ever.

It got to the point where I would simply tell my kids teachers no.

If they had homework that took more them 20 minutes, I would write a note on it. Include district guidelines.

What’s even more telling is when u have two kids in same class. One has lots of homework. One doesn’t. And the kids learn the same stuff.

My absolute worst moments as a parent have been at the table trying to teach my kids some subject. Kids crying. Me frustrated. I think back and cringe.

It’s the teachers job to teach. Not mine.

https://stophomework.com/the-case-against-homework/

Just Google “case against homework”

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There's also the question of if it improves conscientousness.

https://www.learningandthebrain.com/blog/homework-improves-conscientiousness/

__Preliminary__ results from this study: yes.

But that is preliminary, and maybe it's the case that doing 1 hour of homework every night is great for this, but doing obvious busy work after that is not.

Note that willingness to buckle down and do the work are important life skills, so homework could be helping with this.

I know that college is really punishing to those who haven't learned to just sit down and do the work, since the teachers won't help you with that. Maybe that's good/bad, but (at least when I attended) it's how it was - so being used to doing the homework you're supposed to do is good.

(I agree that 2.5 hours a night seems excessive - what if you're also practicing in band or for sports or whatever)

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Sorry about the grammar. I’m on phone. My eyes suck.

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As a lawyer, the pipeline problem looms huge because firms get beaten up over their racial demographics, but at the end of the day there's very little firms can do to fix it at their end of things because the "pipeline" is so long -- to be a lawyer in most states you have to have passed the bar exam (black and Hispanic law students have lower bar pass rates), to take the bar exam in most states you have to have graduated from law school (black and Hispanic law students have lower graduation rates), to attend a law school you generally have to have graduated from college (black and Hispanic college students have lower graduation rates), and to attend college you generally have to have graduated from high school (black and Hispanic high school students have lower graduation rates).

So, you get proposals to do things like abolish the bar exam or convert law schools to one-year plus apprenticeship type programs, but realistically that isn't going to change the total numbers all that much because you need to significantly boost the numbers coming up from college, which in turn requires boosting the numbers coming up from high school.

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We have that issue in medical education too (mostly residency level). We are VERY pro-DEI and strongly recruit applicants from underrepresented groups but that pool of residency applicants is too small. It's hard to win a national recruiting battle against Harvard affiliates, Stanford, etc.

We now aren't allowed to use USMLE scores as a screening tool (which, fine, I understand the argument) but it doesn't fix the underlying pipeline issue that likely has the greatest impact. The real work isn't about recruiting the superstars. It's about diversifying the ranks of the more-average trainees. There's no quick fix for that.

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I vote for science as having the most intractable version of this problem, because the pipeline features all of the above but also faces a compounding problem related to alternative endpoints. To get a top-tier scientist job you need to do the college, master’s, phd, postdoc thing, but throughout that process there are always options to offramp to a middle tier job that pays well but not nearly as well as one for someone who goes the distance. A law school grad doesn’t have a ton of options other than pressing on or giving up completely.

In practice personal wealth plays a key role in scientific advancement, because talented people from a poor family are under enormous pressure to cash in without reaching their full potential throughout the whole process.

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At least anecdotally, it seems even worse than you say: those jobs at the end of the offramp tend to pay far better than their academic counterparts, which only adds to the appeal of cashing in for those who aren't already comfortably off.

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True, if you take professorship as the top job available on a science track. These days I think you can make strong arguments for “prestige industry scientist” as at least coequal, though.

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Also I would imagine that lawyers who are able to pass the bar exam would be more likely to win in court when matched up, on an otherwise level playing field, against lawyers who were able to get licensed only because the bar exam was abolished. That would probably continue to influence law firm hiring decisions even if the "numbers" problem were fixed in this manner.

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That's a debated issue. I personally agree that the bar exam isn't a particularly good test of how successful a lawyer someone would be (the skills it formally tests for don't map to much real life legal practice), but at the same time I think there's an argument that the *degree of concentration and focus needed to study sufficiently to pass the bar exam* (as compared to the particular skill being tested) probably does have some value for evaluating someone's ability to similarly concentrate and focus as a lawyer.

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Right. This is not to say that smart people never fail the bar exam. That does happen. And obviously a lot of total dummies pass it. But broadly speaking there is a significantly higher percentage of dummies among those who fail than those who pass. And dummies tend not to the best at handling the kinds of complex matters that biglaw firms tend to handle.

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And if you can write competently, you’re 50% of the way to passing many bar exams (e.g. California)

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Agree. Also, it's really hard to have an intelligent discussion about the "pipeline" issue that doesn't end up going in semantic circles without starting from an agreed understanding of the optimal division of labor between the socialized or collective education system, and individual private employers about job training.

How much specific job preparation/training should we expect from educational institutions, versus private employers? The answer to that varies by industry, whether your policy goal is to support small employers and startups that have fewer inhouse training resources, etc, etc.

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Big firms have such high rejection rates they reject plenty of qualified minorities. When I was a federal appellate staff attorney, I had intelligent black colleagues who were there, basically, because they couldn’t get biglaw jobs. One of these colleagues got an LLM from Georgetown and still couldn’t get a biglaw job. She wasn’t law review at Harvard smart but she was perfectly intelligent, well audlified and still couldn’t get a biglaw job

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(1) I'm talking all firms, not just biglaw. (2) Black and Hispanic law grads totaled less than 15% of JDs awarded in 2019, IIRC. There just literally are not that many people in the applicant pool (and law is a profession where people stick around 50 years, routinely -- less than 10% or JDs were being awarded to black and Hispanic students just a few years ago). (3) Your friend having an LLM may have been part of the problem for finding a job -- LLMs are not particularly desired in most areas of law and going straight through law school and getting one is going to cause a lot of private firms to be suspicious that your intention is not actually to stay in private practice.

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my friend got an LLM in tax after working for two years for a federal court. that’s exactly what you are supposed to do if you want a biglaw job and don’t make the cut the first time

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OK, a tax LLM is fair (it's one of the very few subject areas that an LLM doesn't immediately label you as a suspected wannabe law professor/political consultant in my experience). I'm very surprised she couldn't get a biglaw position with that résumé though. (I'm pretty sure the hiring partners at my AmLaw100 firm would amputate their left arms for a Georgetown JD female PoC applicant for a tax attorney position even without an LLM.)

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We should abolish all licensing to be a lawyer. Law degrees in that world would simply be a way of signaling your skills (and presumably charging higher rates for higher quality work) rather than being a bar for the purpose of extracting rents from the population.

I should be able to pay my hypothetical smart cousin $50 to represent me in traffic court. I should be able to hire whoever I want, at whatever price we agree on, to represent me before the law. I do not require the greedy patronization of lawyers, convinced that I have to have either the highest quality representation at monopoly prices - or self representation.

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For at least some work that doesn't involve appearing in court I agree with you. Removing corporate practice of law rules so that non lawyers can own legal services firms would go a long way there.

But when it comes to court work, there's good reason why courts require you to be admitted to their bar, ie, have a law license, and don't let every "smart cousin" appear before them on behalf of others. Pro se litigants are bad enough when they're wasting everyone's time and money with frivolous, stupid arguments on behalf of themselves. No reason to let them clog up the system even more by doing it for others, and possibly sending innocent people to jail because of their incompetence. Yes, that sometimes that already happens now with bad lawyers but no reason to make it worse.

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In California one can just take the bar exam and skip law school. And one can always litigate pro se, no degree required.

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The idea that the legal profession exercises some kind of monopoly is kind of laughable. We have more lawyers than we know what to do with right now.

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The pipeline isn’t THAT long. I have been a lawyer for 15 years and people were talking about the pipeline when I was in law school.

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I'm using "long" in the sense of the number of filters -- there's four separate "filters," each of which disproportionately culls potential black and Hispanic lawyers.

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That said, it *is* temporally longer than some other job pipelines -- if you increase the percentage of black and Hispanic high school students graduating in 2022, that's still going to take seven to eight years to show up in first-year associate numbers (and when it does show up, the increase at the tail end is going to be less than the increase at the start by something like 50% unless you fix the other filters too) and another seven years or so before it starts noticeably showing up in numbers of new partners.

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But this isn't true of e.g. programming, which is a trade, not a profession.

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Yes, other lines of work have other issues. I'm talking about the one I'm most familiar with, not claiming it's universal.

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Gotcha!

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What do you make of the fact that the least selective law schools (ie, the ones with the lowest LSAT scores) have the lowest bar passage rates? For one, it's scandalous that law schools where as many as 50% of graduates can't pass the bar exam on the first try don't have their accreditation revoked and have to refund the tuition they collected. Beyond that, it's more complicated....

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English law school is a one year degree if you did the right undergrad (LLB; roughly equivalent to a "pre-law major" in the US) and two years if you didn't. There are then two years of paid apprenticeship (legally required to be paid at least full-time minimum wage; in practice even BigLaw rarely pays much above twice that), and, rather than one "bar exam", there are a series of separate courses that you have to pass during the apprenticeship.

Combine this with the English three-year undergrad, and it is normal to qualify as a lawyer six years out of high school, against the usual American seven and a half to eight.

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This makes a lot more sense than the US lawyer training model. The most important thing is to start with someone who already has good reading comprehension, writing, and critical reasoning skills, and teach them the first year law school curriculum. The rest is on the job training anyway. Instead of making students pay exorbitant tuition to tread water for the last two years of law school, which then requires law firms to pay them exorbitant salaries for their first two years of on-the-job training as associates to help pay down law school debt, it would be better for law firms to hire them on as explicit apprentices at reduced salaries, similar to the residency model in medicine.

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An English LLB is a degree in law - to pick my own alma mater, a mid-ranking school (I'm not a lawyer, I'm a computer programmer who works for a law firm, this wasn't my degree), here's the syllabus.

https://www.hull.ac.uk/study/undergraduate/law-llb-hons

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Yes agree on that. Possibly there should be a higher competence and quality control standards for criminal lawyers since malpractice there has much worse consequences that can't be made whole by an insurance payout. The bar exam is dumb and not terribly relevant to actual law practice but it is one quality filter, sort of like an alternative minimum tax, in that it's a backstop to failure of the law school industrial complex. I wouldn't want to trust my liberty to a lawyer who couldn't pass it. Civil matters are more varied, outside of litigation and certain regulatory compliance practices (which often span civil and criminal law, like in healthcare) a lot of what corporate deal lawyers do is basically just specialized project management.

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Eh I don’t know. Without thinking about it too deeply, seems like having a bunch of fully credentialed 20 year olds running around wouldn’t be that awesome for the profession or the country. Same goes for doctors.

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Matt's defense of ethnic studies is based on the premise that these departments exist due to student demand. But this is not true, as far as I can tell. I do not have systematic statistics to back this claim up, but at the two large state flagship universities I know well, enrollment in these courses is driven overwhelmingly by distributional mandates.

Let me elaborate on one anecdote, because I think it is telling. At one university, we conducted a review of distributional requirements. Part of the motivation was that the current system at the time made it unusually difficult to do a double major, and that many STEM students and faculty wanted to decrease the number of mandated non STEM courses. The main defense of the current system came from the departments whose enrollment numbers were artificially inflated, primarily ethnic studies, but also some other humanities programs. The instructions that came from on down was that the review was to take the concerns of the humanities departments seriously, but that it could be under consideration to let them take a hit. However, the option of decreasing the ethnic studies "quota" was absolutely not on the table.

Generally speaking, I find it very reasonable that as the US gets more diverse, the social sciences and humanities should broaden their perspective. However, this should have been done within the existing disciplines of history, literature, music, arts, what have you. The idea to create new departments that cover all of these diverse fields was strange, as the ways we evaluate scholarship in them are very different. Many people warned that it would not be possible for such heterogeneous departments to develop a reasonable culture of quality control. In my opinion, these warnings have proven fully validated. (It is important to know here that for a senior academic, a hugely important part of the job is quality control - you evaluate other people's papers, their grant applications, their promotion cases, their job applications, their applications to fellowships, and on and on and on.)

The other problem is that these departments are deeply, profoundly, ideological and political. This makes it basically impossible for them to conduct research that anybody else trusts. It is true that academics in general lean left, but it certainly is possible for somebody with orthodox ideas to make a career in say political science or economics. It is harder in English, but still possible. But as far as I can tell, it is outright impossible in ethnic studies. Which is a real shame, because many of the questions addressed in these fields are very important. But if you know that the people who conduct the research are firmly committed to one set of answers, then clearly it gets very difficult for them to convince anybody who does not already agree with them.

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Many professors in these areas even describe themselves as "scholar-activists". They aren't really out on the streets protesting, but claim their scholarship, mentoring, etc are all forms of activism promoting a social justice worldview. The "X Studies" departments don't even really need to exist any more because their social justice ideology has completely taken over Sociology, Anthropology, Literature, and any number of other departments.

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This is sort of a tangent, but it was funny as hell when an effort was made to unionize the TA/RAs of my graduate school about ten-odd years ago. What common cause my STEM colleagues might ever find with X Studies graduate students was, to put it mildly, never satisfactorily explained.

(The effort failed spectacularly, I think for exactly this reason)

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Totally agree. When California did it’s ethnic studies curriculum it took three tries before they could write a version that wasn’t repeatedly accused of anti semitism.

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Matt's specifically talking about Ethnic Studies programs not in Universities but in k-12.

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True, but academia is the ultimate source of the ideas taught in these programs

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Fair point - I did take the comments as referring to higher education. Now that I reread the post, I see that was probably a mistake. Given what I know of the college programs, my instinct is still to be skeptical of what is offered at the high school level. But I will readily admit that I know next to nothing about that.

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Yep, I ended up taking a class on Japanese poetry because of mandates. I can safely say I would not have taken it without those mandates. And I would gladly have taken something more interesting if given the option (I hate poetry)

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I'm sorry that you hate poetry.

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I suspect that the only reason most HS kids take ethnic studies is because they suspect it’s an easy A.

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It's because some places are making it a required course for graduation.

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I don’t have any problem with making curricula more culturally relevant but I’m skeptical that will actually move the needle much. Asian kids seem to do great with (as far as I know) close to zero culturally relevant material handed off to them. Again, it’s probably not going to hurt anything but I doubt this item specifically will do all that much. Hope I’m wrong.

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“Only half of kids are non-Hispanic whites”

I’m pretty sure MY understands just how quickly the Hispanic kids and families who make up the majority of the other half are acculturating/assimilating.

Only the demography is destiny grifters and their poor dupes on both sides of the aisle don’t.

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Eh. I suspect that w/r/t culturally relevant pedagogy specifically, the fact of Hispanic or other nonwhite ancestry matters more than in, say, voting patterns. Like, even "white ethnics" (Italians, Irish, Polish, Jews, am I missing anybody from 1950s South Philly?) like to see themselves reflected in the story told in history class and have their achievements highlighted, even though their voting behavior doesn’t differ from Main Line WASPs anymore.

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Orthodox are the only other sizable grouping, or at least at the time.

But yes, point taken.

Between Hispanic assimilation and Caribbean immigration (My neighbors have... interesting... perspectives on the way the longer-established black community in Philly goes about things), the GOP is going to have a sizeable chunk of people inside the tent trying to get them to stop being fuckheads on the matter. It's one of the reasons I think they're not going to go much further off the deep end before they get reeled back in by internal pressure.

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I work with an Engineer from Nigeria. He's on his way to owning a several million dollar real estate portfolio on top of his IT job pay. With his kid he's a "tiger mom". He is absolutely not down with this DEI stuff, or cutting out testing. He also voted for Trump, twice.

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Ehhh, my ideal world is one in which we have cops who aren't petulant schoolyard bullies, so he's getting no sympathy there.

This isn't some third-world shithole, it's a developed country that should have accountable and respectful police forces.

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"If the GOP turned down the race-baiting they'd get a bunch more votes, easily."

Agreed, but we'll have to see if they *can*. As we've discussed elsewhere, the lunatics are running the asylum in at least 12-15 states and counting. They might not be able to turn down the xenophobia without losing the base.

Maybe... maybe... the Democrats will give them enough ammunition from wokeist bullshit that they can dial back the race-baiting in favor of just hating on the urban idiots while still retaining the culture war folks and the base.

Could go either way.

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About the ethnic studies content: I think Matt was talking more about studies of specific ethnic groups in American history (unless I misunderstood), but it raises another issue that I find concerning. I often see pundits proposing that we teach people more literature from non-Western cultures (e.g. African, Asian, etc.). I'm all for this in general -- it's good for people to have a broader understanding of literature.

But the *reasoning* behind these proposals seems to be the idea that a Black American should feel a stronger connection with an African author, and an Asian-American should feel a stronger connection with an Asian author, than either would feel with a white American author. To me, this is disturbing. It seems like a capitulation to tribalism by people who are left of center. Can we teach a left-wing version of shared American identity instead?

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https://www.economist.com/united-states/2021/10/23/ethnic-studies-lessons-benefit-low-achieving-non-white-pupils (Paywalled, I read the physical version)

QUOTE:

The study shows that San Francisco’s ethnic-studies curriculum, a programme for ninth-graders (who are about 14 years old) that is designed to focus on the history of disadvantaged communities and encourages a focus on social issues, had benefits beyond merely what was learned in the classroom

ENDQUOTE

_Should_ I feel a stronger connection with a gay author than a straight author. Probably not, but maybe I do. It's not about tribalism, it's more feeling some shared experience to start you off. Like representation in movies etc.

I'd be against separating what you read by ethnicity - if all the white kids read one set of books and all the black kids read another set. But putting a mix in (that ALL kids read) that is more likely to have authors that "represent" the kid feels like representation without tribalism.

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How much weight can you put into this one study? Even more rigorous fields like econ and medicine are shot through with p-hacking and related publish or perish problems. When research is produced by an "Institute of Diversity Studies" you can add the problem of political / idealogical motivations. For reference see the long comment by Gunnar Martinsson in this thread.

If "reading books by authors that share my ancestry" or focusing studies on disadvantaged groups was a magic bullet I guess that would be good news. But I doubt it is.

But in any case, I'm also deeply ill at ease with this idea of "a connection with the material" being understood in the lowest, most superficial terms. Connecting with a gay author as a gay man is absolutely not the same thing as trying to tell me that my daughter won't connect with Hamlet because she's not a white person. GTFO with that. We shouldn't be teaching kids that skin color or other arbitrary ethnic labels "represents them".

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Not just the p-hacking but as Matt says above, we often find that educational reforms don't scale - they tend to have worked because of the particular educators/whatever involved.

I just wanted to link to what (I thought) was meant by ethnic studies stuff.

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Yeah, I think I completely agree with you that (1) ethnic studies programs have potential benefits for everyone, and (2) everyone is probably more likely to feel a greater connection to someone who has more in common with them. In general, I think it's good for people to be exposed to a wide range of historical accounts, literature and so forth.

The only thing I was commenting on was the idea that the *primary* determinant of whether someone feels a connection to an author is the author's race or appearance. I think in a lot of cases it's probably not true that a third-generation Mexican-American feels more in common with a Peruvian (non-American) author than they do with, say, F. Scott Fitzgerald. And I wouldn't want that student to be encouraged to feel a greater connection with the Peruvian author.

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Seems simple enough- provide students a diverse set of authors to read throughout their education, and teach them all that it’s possible to relate to people very different from them. Let students who resonate strongly with a particular book/author share with their classmates why, but don’t assume they’ll relate to someone who looks like them. The book that I recall loving most in HS was Invisible Man, and I’m a white female.

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I felt the same way in my own education and Invisible Man remains the novel I am most awed by, but I watched a teenager get tears in his eyes when talking about how he was able to get engaged in school when they started offering him classes in the language of his tribe which was indigenous to the area. He reported being excited to get up in the morning and get to school because he felt part of something and connected to his history. I know it's just an anecdote but it has stuck with me.

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Agreed. I don't think we should _encourage_ that connection, just that if it exists, _provide_ it. And as you say connections exist on all axes.

Someone writing about growing up in Austin in the 80's is VERY relatable to me, much more so than someone who is otherwise like me but grew up in Sweden.

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And I would be much more interested in learning about what it was like growing up in Sweden, than reading about someone just like me. I already KNOW that!

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I don’t see why this is an issue. I’m Indian-American. I’m proud of my American citizenship but also fiercely proud of my original heritage and my motherland. So yeah, if I was in high school, I would definitely have felt more connected and engaged to the coursework if we were discussing Indian-American authors. The whole point of the US is that you’re allowed to have that dual identity. I’m sure many kids feel the same way.

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Or a right wing patriotic version of ethnic studies!

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"people tend to be more interested in stuff that is about people like them than in stuff that feels alien."

Taking race as a reliable index of 'who is like you' and 'who is alien' is bad. It's the kind of thing education should overcome, not reinscribe.

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Thank you. I was going to write a comment like this.

Someone saying "we need to stop teaching X or something because less than half of kids are non-hispanic whites" sounds incredibly racist to me. I don't know how you can make the argument that I, as a white guy with 0% English ancestry, should be expected to enjoy Shakespeare, for example, but a Hispanic kid in Texas or an Asian kid in California shouldn't. There's nothing wrong with broadening the curriculum but we're still an English language culture, regardless of skin pigment.

Kids should be taught that people of every kind of ethnicity have made contributions to America but they shouldn't feel like they can only be proud of people from their "race". And of course we should teach the history of slavery, the treatment of native Americans, etc. but that would be true whether the share of white kids was increasing or declining. It's history, not "identity" history

Related point: It would be good if a little broader context was introduced when teaching these negative things. What do you think other countries were doing in the year 1800 or 1619? The world up to 1800 was filled with slavery, wars of conquest, religious persecution and attempts to wipe out cultures. If anything we were a little unusual in starting to move against those things

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Yes, exactly. Obviously the US of 1800 fell far short of modern ideals, but so did everybody else.

I think England has gotten a particularly rough deal in the current debate, since they have consistently been at on the forefront of expanding rights and freedom, on slavery in particular.

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Of the European Great Powers, that's pretty fair - I think you'd generally have preferred to live in a British colony than a French, Dutch, German, Spanish, or Portuguese one (and, obviously, way ahead of a Belgian one), to pick an obvious example.

But it's gotten increasingly less true since about WWII, as the Scandinavian countries and the Dutch have got well ahead on a bunch of the modern issues of rights and freedoms.

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When I was a kid, we had lots of social studies and literature classes about cultures that differed from our upper-middle class, mostly white cultural bubble. Personally, I liked those classes, but IDK what got through to other kids. It might just be that more variety is likely to get more kids interested.

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“I truly cannot emphasize how much more correct early-reading instruction matters than whether or not kids read the 1619 project.” Best sentence in the article but also maybe the most disheartening? I think this sentiment is totally counter to the prevailing strongly held progressive stuff I am hearing and convincing people of this sets u against teachers unions, progressive activists and a host of others. The idea that standardized testing should be an anchor to guide true accountability and improvement for poor, minority, and poorly performing students and also to find the talented students that might be missed in unlikely places to get them even better resources and outcomes is clear as day to me but just not what people seem to want to hear on the left. I don’t see them flipping on it soon but maybe that is my version of edu-pessimism.

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Yep. That last paragraph says it all really. I watched a disastrous experiment in education called the Whole Language Approach play out in Ontario. It was very popular with the teachers I must say. You don't have to teach spelling or grammar you see. This will be acquired naturally as students progress through their grades. Man, did that ever not happen.

The truth is the pipeline ends somewhere. For things like STEM degrees it ends at a very solid wall. If you wish to undertake such a course of study it does not matter what social or cultural impediments stood in your way of acquiring the math and reading skills you must have to do this. And we very much need every mind we can get prepped and engaged and ready to go. Global warming will not be solved by social justice warriors of any stripe. It will be solved by scientists and engineers. Frankly I don't give a damn what other college faculties do.

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"Frankly I don't give a damn what other college faculties do."

Used to kind of agree until those other departments graduated and took over the newsroom and HR department.

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As a millennial, I’m always shocked to hear that there’s any controversy at all around phonics. It’s how I learned to read in the late 80s and I just assumed it was how everyone learned to read. Hooked on Phonics, right? Id be curious to hear if there is any correlation between a school/district’s approach to teaching reading and their long term student outcomes… maybe it’s in one of Matt’s links.

Second the pipeline problem. It’s certainly an issue in STEM, one that (white male) colleagues are quick to bring up when racial/gender disparities in the workforce are brought up as a problem for us to own. We certainly invest a lot of employee effort into outreach- STEM programs at schools and with clubs to help get more kids interested in STEM. “If you can’t see it, you can’t be it” is a common refrain to encourage women and minorities in STEM to participate in the outreach. But it’s fair to also say, “if you can’t read, you can’t be it.”

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+1 for phonics education. I'm always at a loss as to how anyone can learn to read without primarily doing it via phonics.

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I’m already doing it with my almost 3 year old and he loves it. It can be fun to learn how to decode the world around you. I don’t get the argument that it’s too boring???

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Similar, I just assumed this *is* how reading is taught.

Does everyone remember the phonics books with the plaid covers? I asked my wife and they were ubiquitous for us across all of our elementary schools.

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"The kids who are not good at school, meanwhile, are not paying close attention to the content of history classes." I think this is far too glib. The most obvious rejoinder is that there are probably a lot of in-between students who would benefit, even slightly, from a more holistic view of American history. By ceding the ground too easily to the racists, a ready opportunity to improve the holistic worldview of the citizenry is lost.

Imagine if this was about the debates about teaching evolution in classrooms: who cares? The smart kids will seek out info on evolution, and the dumb kids won't care.

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What, specifically, do you think the racists are keeping kids from learning?

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I guarantee that 70-80% of the students in your typical non-honors high school biology class understand even slightly how evolution works. At best they will get that it is change over time, which is something they just as easily picked up through osmosis.

The most important things that low-performing students learn are reading, foundational math, and basic writing/reasoning skills. They will probably not care about nor remember much else.

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do not understand*

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Matt's point is off because the actually smart kids will go into STEM and only be exposed to left wing history in survey classes

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They'll also be exposed to it in books and on the internet, to be fair.

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I remember that McWhorter episode. In fact, he listed three ideas for advancing racial equity. The third was making long-acting reversible birth control cheap and widely available for teenagers. (Not relevant to this piece, of course.)

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I've heard him (McWhorter) on other podcasts as well, and he almost always lists those three things.

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Hi Matt —

Thank you for this post. I would like to take evidentiary issue with one claim:

"There could absolutely be more Black engineers at Google...but they’d have to be coming from some other institution or field that employs people with technical skills. Either that or you need to increase the population of people who obtain those technical skills."

My grad-school classmate Chelsea Barabas wrote her master's thesis on this: https://dspace.mit.edu/handle/1721.1/97992. She persuasively argues that it is not the latter thing, but instead a product of 1) myopic hiring/recruitment practices and 2) inadequate commitment to job-specific training for those who already have the foundational skills. Both her ethnographic work with tech founders/people ops, as well as analyses of public records and school research, support these conclusions.

I would like to quote at length from one relevant section of chapter 2:

"The more I discussed hiring practices with tech company leaders, the more I realized how imprecise their metrics for competence and talent actually were, particularly for candidates with limited prior work experience. Although many of the founders and CEOs I spoke with expressed frustration with these methods, few of them critically reflected on the role that they played in creating and perpetuating a homogenous workforce in tech. Rather, they assumed that there was a general scarcity of technical talent, particularly for individuals from underrepresented groups. Because their search methods yielded very few women or people of color, they assumed that the problem stemmed from leaks in the education pipeline for STEM careers..."

However, she points out that if you look at data from the American Society for Engineering Education, you will see that *more* Black/Latine students, *in absolute terms,* graduate with IT-related degrees in the United States than white/Asian students. The problem is that they disproportionately attend schools like UC-Riverside or North Carolina A&T or the University of Texas El-Paso, and tech companies do not recruit at these schools.

Now, you could maybe say "well, UC-Riverside doesn't train students to be SWEs at Google as well as MIT or CMU or Stanford." I'd contest that premise, but even if you grant it, that still doesn't make it a pipeline problem, it makes it a *job training* problem. The point of a bachelor's degree in computer science is not to train someone to be an SWE at Google, it's to provide a computing education sufficient to meet the standards of the educators guild, which should lay a foundation on which other people can build with additional training.

Besides, other parts of Chelsea's thesis show that, as you say in your journalism example, most of this in the tech industry seems to be driven by the idea that companies hire mostly through personal referrals or prestige-driven recruitment only at elite universities.

I'd also point out this is consonant with Krugman's long-held thesis that there is no skills gap, there is only a training gap.

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As someone who recruits in tech, I couldn’t disagree more with this. We actively recruit at lower tier schools, and when we give the same case studies to candidates, the pass rates are markedly lower. Not that there aren’t any good candidates — I myself came from a “second tier” school — but the ROI of doing an interview day is much lower because the %age that can pass the cases is lower.

And why would it? Again, this goes to Matt’s point that tests matter. The students at MIT have higher SAT scores and higher high school GPAs than at a UC Riverside. And their professors are markedly better at MIT than at UCR. I have a PhD and understand the type of grad student who ended up as a professor at MIT vs UCR. So of course the average/median student at UCR is not as competent at various skills as an MIT student.

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The anodyne normie Democratic view is that you will find great hires from nearly every institution and/or a great candidate can work their butt off and find success nearly anywhere.

An exciting new Online Left view is that candidates from every institution are actually interchangeable and/or the school you go to simply doesn't matter.

Those can sound similar if you aren't paying attention, but they are very, very, very different views!

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In my experience, even the "anodyne normie Democratic" view tends to presume an unlimited supply of applicants matching every conceivable demographic permutation so long as you put sufficient effort into recruiting, which at some point is just not true for a lot of positions (at least within the constraints of federal and state civil rights laws requiring you to offer similarly qualified applicants the same salary and benefits regardless of race, sex, etc.).

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To be clear, I have the normie view here.

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But you see that the ROI is very low for HR recruiters, right? Or as a hiring manager, I can spend one day at MIT and get 5 hires, or one day at UMass and get (maybe) one hire.

Makes sense for the Googles and the Facebooks that have scale to look for needles in the haystack, but how would a startup have the scale to hire at every CS school in the US?

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To say nothing of organizations where team leads *dream* of having somebody called a "hiring manager" rather than trying to shoehorn "find a new guy" into their 45 weekly hours of other work.

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Absolutely! I agree with you completely! My point was *not* that recruiters at small tech companies are bad or prejudiced or whatever. Nor was Chelsea's. The point is about: is there a "shortage" of Black people who can become good programmers in the US, or are they distributed in a way that makes it hard/expensive/less convenient to find? These are very different problems to solve, so we should be precise about what the problem is, and the pipeline myth — which I long used/subscribed to in my professional work — locates the problem in a place that makes it seem harder and more expensive to solve (in aggregate) than it actually is.

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"who can become good programmers in the US"

Isn't this still kind of a pipeline problem somewhat? If I have to invest resources in training someone to be good (which might not work!) vs hire someone already good (possibly because they grew up in a better environment) then that's an issue too.

Like, I'm a pretty good programmer(I think) and I enjoyed teaching math as a T.A., but I don't have the practice/time to teach people to program (other than specific tips/tricks I've picked up)

Yes, if Google decides they want to make a Google University to train people to be good programmers they probably can(and maybe they should) but that's specifically addressing pipeline shortages.

That said... it can be a combination. If you hire at M.I.T., maybe you can assume that everyone who passes your qualifications is worth hiring but 80% of them do, and everyone who doesn't you ignore as less likely to work out (M.I.T. already tried) and maybe if you go to UTEP (UT El Paso) only 25% of people pass your qualifications(and another 25% are worth hiring/training) but you don't got at all, then those 25% of people at UTEP are out of luck, and they also won't be able to refer their competent friends etc.

If you say "it's just a pipeline problem" you fail to find those 25% at UTEP (and their friends).

If you say "let's work to hire but not fix the pipeline" then you get those 25%, but you leave the other 25% out because training is expensive - but that's a pipeline problem to fix.

Saying "there's no real need to fix lower education - we'll let large companies hire and train" doesn't sound right to me.

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The UMass kids are cheaper. It’s the companies that can pay Google wages that recruit there. Not every employer wants, needs or can afford the best and brightest.

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One other thing -- as someone who went to both a "second tier" school in engineering and then a "first tier" school in graduate school, there was a significant different in instruction. In some cases, we used the same textbook, but in the second tier school, we'd go through Chapters 1-4 and skip around. In the "first tier" school, we'd go through every chapter and every section. Naturally, the student who is educated in the "first tier" school is more competent and able to succeed in an engineering role.

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1) if recruitment practices have changed since Chelsea wrote her thesis, that is good news

2) if not enough students are passing your case studies, then the problem is your case studies, or rather, the bar you expect from your candidates before you offer them training. and the ROI might be lower, but again, that is not a "pipeline problem," that is a problem of how much in the way of resources a given company wants to devote to the problem of who and how they hire

3) to the extent tests matter, it is (in my opinion) probably because what the tests mostly measure is "how good/disciplined are you at teaching yourself esoteric content that no one really trains you for." This is also, in my opinion, how things more or less work at MIT's undergrad glasses in STEM fields, which is to say they are mostly large lectures where you are mostly teaching yourself the material outside of lecture. This also prepares you well for teaching yourself on-the-job skills at tech companies. I'm not saying don't hire MIT graduates! I'm saying: to the extent companies are complaining about pipeline problems for diversity, or skills gaps for hiring employees, these are problems they are making for themselves.

as long as we're pulling biography into it: I'm an admissions officer at MIT, got my grad degree at MIT, occasionally teach in my old grad department at MIT. Went to UMass as an undergrad. At the time, the same tech companies definitely did not show up at both schools to recruit.

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“if not enough students are passing your case studies, then the problem is your case studies, or rather, the bar you expect from your candidates before you offer them training….”

I cannot begin to tell you how many interview cycles I’ve gone through where in STEM jobs where I basically needed to be Alan f***ing Turing to pass the interview, get to the job the first day, and it’s easy as shit.

I don’t know if this is employers hyping how hard the job is to recruiters to hype the salary up or what. But it’s definitely causing problems with diversity and inclusion in tech, finance, consulting, you name it industries.

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Chelsea goes into this in her thesis, especially given Google's findings that academic performance doesn't predict success at Google, nor did their infamously hard puzzles. Instead, academic performance (especially at elite universities) and puzzle solving were cultural cognates for the early workforce at Google, which then formalized them as part of the hiring process.

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Fair point!

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I feel like there is a brain worm in some organizations where management can't stomach the idea that they do, indeed, have menial, not-so-complex, less-fulfilling work at the bottom of the org. chart. So they get into this self-hype game where they tell themselves that every role requires a high level of effort, skill, and creativity.... "something something culture something something..." And, it is true that, on the margin, people with more of those things will have success in almost any role. So, they can point to the one accounts receivables clerk that saved the company half a million dollars by optimizing some process without being asked, and rose to management by just showing a little pluck and initiative. But, then, to your point, they end up over-qualifying the entry level role based on how they want their company/the world to work, not how it actually works.

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"*more* Black/Latine students, *in absolute terms,* graduate with IT-related degrees in the United States than white/Asian students."

I'm incredulous about that from a basic college demographics standpoint unless this is including associate degrees and very broadly defining "IT-related degrees." For example, this source reports that in 2018 almost three times as many "Computer and Information Sciences" bachelor degrees were awarded to white students as black and Hispanic students combined: https://nces.ed.gov/programs/digest/d19/tables/dt19_322.30.asp

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It might have included associates degrees — let me see if I can find a cite! However, I'd point out that your 2018 report of 3:1 is still insufficient to explain the actually observed demographics of tech workers (which are more skewed than 3:1).

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I'd want to see the stats over time before making a determination about how severe the skew is. Present employment in the industry isn't just graduates from the last three years, it's reflective of the cumulative graduation rates of the last 40 or so years.

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Very fair! I'll talk to Chelsea and see if I can find those sources I think I remember, including over the long run. However, I would emphasize that *when you actually talk to hiring managers*, as she does in her thesis, they will *tell you* that they can't predict performance, and that they mostly recruit from personal referrals and elite schools by convenience. The main thrust of my point is that this explains, or at least is consistent with, observed "pipeline problems."

Now, as some other commenters have pointed out, there may have been an industry shift here more recently. You have institutions like https://makeschool.org/ that are trying to intervene with a different model, as well as orgs like CODE2040 that are trying to create a trusted source of job-trained candidates for companies as an alternative to referrals and elite universities. The fact that this is falling upon nonprofits to do is because of a market failure, i.e. that companies don't want to do the work themselves. Which is fine, I guess, they can do what they want! They should just understand that these are choices they are making, not the fault of some pipeline in the distance somewhere.

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Or if you do think you've uncovered this secret to unlock billions ... build a company. Although I suspect the actual pitch deck would resemble the (1) collect underpants (2) ? and (3) profits model.

Side note ... I was mentoring at this local incubator. One pitch was super interesting. They wanted to build a platform to connect early stage companies in developing companies with US investors. Initial focus was on Mexico. They had some compelling valuations across early stages. My feedback was -- if this is true -- just raise a VC and invest in the equity rather than try to build a platform capture fees.

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Also — I don't think you're stupid, I think this is hard/nonintuitive problem that lots of very smart people get wrong!

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I think your analysis misses the labor disciplining aspect of this. One reason that tech is so interested in H1-B visas is because it is much easier to control skilled labor who are desperately dependent upon you to stay in the country, rather than training up more workers who might then leave you.

(to be clear, I also support more immigration)

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Implied in your or maybe better said Chelsea's argument is a massive labor arbitrage opportunity to hire from this overlooked talent pool at discounted rates and then train the requisite skills. This isn't happening - despite massive incentives and efforts to address current labor shortages. I guess the question is why not? I think you need to take the counterfactual seriously.

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1) to some extent, because of public pressure about diversity, it has: https://buildyourfuture.withgoogle.com/programs/googleinresidence/

2) there are business interests in relying on e.g. H1-B visas over domestic talent buildups too https://www.slowboring.com/p/crt-school/comment/3554431

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