Re: Goodhart's Law

1

One kid got a B in our class last semester! Take that, grade inflation.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 02- 3-14 10:56 AM
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On my graduate school course, about 1 in 4 got failed.

[This will descend into Monty Python 'yorkshiremen' territory.]


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 02- 3-14 11:01 AM
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Obviously a little grade inflation is desirable (otherwise good students would tend to hoard past grades, afraid they couldn't match them in future classes, and bad students' futures would feel too set in stone). The problem arises when grades hit the 100 upper bound, and further inflation is impossible.


Posted by: | Link to this comment | 02- 3-14 11:06 AM
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That was me.


Posted by: Eggplant | Link to this comment | 02- 3-14 11:06 AM
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I seem to recall only about 10% of students in Chicago's PhD microeconomics class getting As or A-s, but Chicago used that as a way to weed out who would get funding, at least back then.


Posted by: x.trapnel | Link to this comment | 02- 3-14 11:06 AM
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I found out recently that one of my grad school cohort actually got kicked out. In, I guess, an attempt to handle it sensitively, [ neutral pronoun ] was given a year to finish [neutral possessive pronoun ] masters and was allowed/encouraged to tell everybody that it was a matter of wanting to go in a different direction, which is why I didn't find out what happened until [ neutral pronoun ] was already gone. [ neutral pronoun ] really fucked it up big time, though.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 02- 3-14 11:08 AM
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As per 2, it really was common to fail 20-25% of the course. They slightly made things easier* the year after I did it, as the year before there had been a higher than normal failure rate, and someone or other had influential parents or contacts who decided that that was unduly harsh and they were going to complain.

* some resits allowed. No change to the pass mark. Previously no resits were allowed. Dipping below the passmark on one of the four sections meant failure, even if you excelled on the other three.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 02- 3-14 11:14 AM
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One function of grades is to give employers and other schools a sense of the abilities of the student. Grade inflation makes it harder to send detailed information this way. Everyone just gets an A.

To the extent that this is a problem, it amounts to an important tool losing some of its usefulness. It isn't some kind of grand decline in standards.

Grade inflation isn't nearly as bad as letter of recommendation inflation. I really feel like words have lost their meaning writing those things.


Posted by: rob helpy-chalk | Link to this comment | 02- 3-14 11:37 AM
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God I would love it if there were letter of recommendation standards. I am so unsure how much to praise, and how to make sense of other peoples' letters.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 02- 3-14 11:39 AM
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feel like words have lost their meaning writing those things.

Relevant.


Posted by: ogged | Link to this comment | 02- 3-14 11:41 AM
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One kid got a B in our class last semester!

Mine too! I felt kind of bad about it, though.


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 02- 3-14 11:41 AM
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Checking references by phone call is nice. I've been hiring summer interns, and it is a pleasure calling someone's references and hearing a delighted tone of voice, with the speaker falling all over themselves to tell you how great their student is. Unless they're serious actors, that's got to be sincere.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 02- 3-14 11:41 AM
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I seem to recall only about 10% of students in Chicago's PhD microeconomics class getting As or A-s

I'm kind of curious what Chicago's distribution of GPAs looks like and how it compares to, say, Harvard's. I used to hear a lot of people talking about how Chicago made it much more difficult to get A's, but I always doubted that.


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 02- 3-14 11:43 AM
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Here's a site I've linked before with a lot of data on grade inflation (not sure if it has been updated recently, however). No time to look much, but Harvard has some data but did not see Chicago.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 02- 3-14 11:48 AM
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Calibrating letters of recommendation internationally is also extremely difficult. The European ones mostly sound lackluster to me, and every student in China appears to be the best in a generation and has a bizarrely long publication record before they finish their undergrad degree.


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 02- 3-14 11:48 AM
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Grade inflation wouldn't be a problem were it not for the A-B-C-D-F system which imposes an upper barrier. Otherwise inflation would be fine. They should just switch it in reverse, so that an F is a better grade and if you have inflation you can just add on a "G" grade. Or just be like kindergarten and have grades be animal stickers (is three giraffes better than two smiley faces and a rhino? maybe!)


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 02- 3-14 11:51 AM
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13: I have no reason to think there's much difference at the undergrad level, but Chicago's econ PhD program was specifically structured to be a bloody tournament for a limited number of funded spots. Not sure if that's still the case; it seems silly to me.


Posted by: x.trapnel | Link to this comment | 02- 3-14 11:51 AM
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Halford wants to usher in an era of grade hyperinflation that will have students carting around their report cards in wheelbarrows.


Posted by: Eggplant | Link to this comment | 02- 3-14 11:56 AM
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Do not recall seeing this particular graph from the link in 14. Kind of sums it all up: Late '60s to early '70s A's rise to 2nd most common, C's fall to 3rd, followed by a period of retrenchment, and then a slow, inexorable advance of the A's from the mid-80s on.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 02- 3-14 11:57 AM
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This is what happens when you leave the gold star standard.


Posted by: Eggplant | Link to this comment | 02- 3-14 11:58 AM
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Anyhow, grade inflation just seems to be another iteration of the endless "rich get richer, everyone else gets fucked" all-encompassing narrative of everything. Certainly the top-end law schools which don't have grades (Harvard, Yale and Stanford now) do so because they can plausibly rely upon their elite status to deny such information to employers, and thus force more graduates of their schools on employers at the expense of lesser-ranked institutions. I assume the everyone-always-gets-an-A as a Harvard undergrad thing is the same kind of move.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 02- 3-14 11:58 AM
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21 is a good point. I'd totally forgotten that this, like everything else, is just part of elite hegemony. Sigh.


Posted by: x.trapnel | Link to this comment | 02- 3-14 12:00 PM
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Harvard Law sorta has grades, right? Or, at least, they have multiple levels of passing which communicate different things about performance in the course.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 02- 3-14 12:00 PM
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21: Right, one place per the link in 14 that shows no inflation (or even deflation) is the community college system.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 02- 3-14 12:01 PM
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One of the big problems with grade inflation is that if you give someone a C who deserves an F, then they fail their next class and end up on a take-fail loop on a class they're unprepared for rather than a take-fail loop on the class they're prepared for.


Posted by: Unfoggetarian: "Pause endlessly, then go in." (9) | Link to this comment | 02- 3-14 12:03 PM
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I really feel like words have lost their meaning

They have! Yesterday, I went to a hair salon to get my hair cut. I told the young woman working the reception desk, ""I'm peep. I have an appointment with K---" She replied, "Awesome!"


Posted by: peep | Link to this comment | 02- 3-14 12:04 PM
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24: yeeeeah. On the other hand, one might posit that the range of preparation, expended effort, and ability found in a community college classroom genuinely is quite a bit greater than that found in a Stanford classroom, say, where everybody -- for whatever their many other faults -- is probably gonna be pretty good at school.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 02- 3-14 12:07 PM
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they can plausibly rely upon their elite status to deny such information to employers

But elite schools have also gotten even harder to get into, right? I'm not going to argue that they're communicating as much information as they could, but it seems that the sorting has mostly just moved to a prior step in the process. They're saying, "If we let this person in, they're as good as an A student."


Posted by: ogged | Link to this comment | 02- 3-14 12:08 PM
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I think the main explanation for grade inflation at elite institutions is that the students really are better than they were. Students like W who were getting gentlemen's C's in the 60s just wouldn't get into Yale now. In my experience, it was objectively easier to get a good grade in an intro language class at Harvard than Berkeley, even though the distribution at Harvard certainly looked more "inflated." (Of course, elite institutions are a rounding error in any discussion of the education system as a whole.)


Posted by: Unfoggetarian: "Pause endlessly, then go in." (9) | Link to this comment | 02- 3-14 12:08 PM
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Er, that was backwards. Objectively easier to get an A- at Berkeley than Harvard.


Posted by: Unfoggetarian: "Pause endlessly, then go in." (9) | Link to this comment | 02- 3-14 12:10 PM
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Right, one place per the link in 14 that shows no inflation (or even deflation) is the community college system.

I bet it is because of the expanding student base. We are getting more and more students who are less and less ready for college. I like to think we've been holding standards constant. Maybe there's been some inflation. But the influx of underprepared students is a big deal.


Posted by: rob helpy-chalk | Link to this comment | 02- 3-14 12:11 PM
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Evidence of a long-standing tradition of grade inflation at Harvard/Radcliffe

It was a very lonely Spring day.Gertrude Stein had been going to the opera every night, and going to the opera also in the afternoon, and had been otherwise engrossed and it was the period of the final examinations, and there was the examination in William James's course. She sat down with the examination paper before her and she just could not. "Dear Professor James," she wrote at the top of her paper, "I am so sorry, but really I do not feel a bit like an examination paper in philosophy today." and left. The next day she had a postal card from William James saying, "Dear Miss Stein, I understand perfectly how you feel. I often feel like that myself." And underneath it he gave her the highest mark in his course.


Posted by: peep | Link to this comment | 02- 3-14 12:13 PM
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But if you believe in norm based education, and you believe in improvements in teaching and students, surely grades should be going up without any "inflation" occurring? I am sure Daniel Davies once produced a graph arguing grade inflation looked like productivity gains.


Posted by: Keir | Link to this comment | 02- 3-14 12:14 PM
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27: But not sure how that relates to trends over time.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 02- 3-14 12:15 PM
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29, 31: yep. I was pretty shocked by how unprepared some of my classmates at community college were (and pleasantly surprised by how great many of them were, as well) and have also realized that I was unprepared for how good at school the vast majority of students at my current institution are.

Although in both cases unfogged (or I guess the blogosphere generally) has really messed up my expectation for the mean level of writing ability in the world at large.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 02- 3-14 12:18 PM
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I'm sure the point made in 27-29 is somewhat true, but it's still just a reflection of the rich get richer, everyone else gets fucked dynamic. It's obviously in the interest of both professors,* current students, and administrators at elite institutions to pretend, to the extent they're capable, that the admissions selection process is the crucial moment and determines all -- everything else doesn't matter as much. And it is indeed probably true true that the *average* Stanford admittee is objectively "better at school" than the average Cal State Dominguez Hills admittee. But (a) grades are also supposed to provide an indicator of relative performance at the institution and (b) at a system-wide level, grade inflation just ends up reinforcing the power of elite schools and elite students at those schools at the expense of everyone else.

*because if good grades aren't the most reliable indicia of success, that indicia becomes personal recommendation/research assistant/etc, etc. Not to mention most professors hate grading.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 02- 3-14 12:22 PM
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How appropriate, today is Gertude Stein's birthday.

Her obit in the NY Times (seems to be a wire service obit) is somewhat amusing. Devotees of her cult professed to find her restoring a pristine freshness and rhythm to language. Medical authorities compared her effusions to the rantings of the insane.


Posted by: md 20/400 | Link to this comment | 02- 3-14 12:25 PM
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33: I suppose it depends on what function we think grades are supposed to perform. I've recently started teaching pre-professional students where the relevant question at the end of the day is "Do they understand this material well enough to perform their jobs well or not?". As long as the exams are well calibrated to assess that, I'd be fine with if they all got A's.

The problem is the insidious influence of the "student as customer" model, which can lead to pressure to dumb down the exams so the customers can pass.

Calibrating letters of recommendation internationally is also extremely difficult. The European ones mostly sound lackluster to me

When I went up for tenure I was explicitly warned not to suggest European letter writers because they tend not to follow the American practice of pushing the superlatives up to 11.


Posted by: AcademicLurker | Link to this comment | 02- 3-14 12:27 PM
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36: but the problem is not that the average student is less prepared for college at the CC; the problem is that the range is much, much wider. So the difference between the worst-performing and best-performing student in the class will be much, much wider than it would be at an elite (or even fairly selective) institution. The way to change that, probably, would be to make the classes at the elite (or even fairly selective) institutions much, much harder, but at a certain point that's going to mean spending a lot of time in introductory classes (or whatever) covering material that is not particularly central or meaningful.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 02- 3-14 12:28 PM
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The path to Halfordismo apparently goes through the blackened ruins of the Harvard, Yale and Stanford.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 02- 3-14 12:28 PM
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Among other blackened ruins, baby.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 02- 3-14 12:29 PM
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38: I'd be fine with IT if they all got A's.


Posted by: AcademicLurker | Link to this comment | 02- 3-14 12:31 PM
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"Safety school" means you'll be safe there because it won't get razed.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 02- 3-14 12:31 PM
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And I don't really disagree with the point made in 39, but the broader issue is that grade inflation at elite institutions is largely a way to protect the middle lump of very-good-but-not-great students at top schools from competition from lesser institutions, make their experience once in the university easier, and make the moment of admission the key determinant of future success.

Really, this is a problem not so much with grade inflation per se but with the US system of focusing so much attention in higher ed in the admissions process to a very few, strictly ranked, largely private universities, instead of the systems we see elsewhere in developed countries, where the work you actually do once admitted to a (usually bigger, usually public) university matters more. Grade inflation is just a symptom.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 02- 3-14 12:36 PM
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Also: I think it's easy to overestimate the inherent quality of students at elite institutions. You get into university in the states at 18 based on, as far as I can tell, one bizarrely outmoded and ill-deigned set of high-stakes exams that may not have anything to do with the curriculum you were taught, plus a bunch of highly school specific things. This evaluative method is always going to have enough noise in it to require a broader range of grades than A to B+ or whatever by the time you get to fourth year.


Posted by: Keir | Link to this comment | 02- 3-14 12:36 PM
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I think a much smaller pool, where letters of recommendation came from people you knew, made possible lower/harder grades.

John Jay Chapman, like Stein a student of William James and in fact a special favorite of his once wrote he never got more than 75% in his life.

I got quite a few Bs and even Cs at University of Chicago grad. school in the 70s, from professors who encouraged and recommended me in the strongest terms. Might not be completely dead yet.

On the other hand, I've encountered questions about Law School grades from 30 years ago. Some know no other way.


Posted by: Idp | Link to this comment | 02- 3-14 12:40 PM
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This graph from the link is relevant as well (breaks out private vs. public).


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 02- 3-14 12:42 PM
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The proper response to 46.last is a head butt.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 02- 3-14 12:43 PM
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47 -- right. I mean, what are you paying for?


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 02- 3-14 12:43 PM
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45: speaking for myself, I am relying purely on my own actual experience with students in various settings, not any assumptions about the nature of the application process.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 02- 3-14 12:45 PM
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the inherent quality

This has very little to do with it. You get into the elite institutions by being the right kind of person, and the test scores just let the school know that you won't embarrass yourself once you're there.

plus a bunch of highly school specific things

Not sure this is true (could be though; I applied to college many many years ago). Everyone has a pretty good idea of what the elite schools want, and some particular gift (ambiguity intended!) aside, it's a long list of skills and accomplishments: musical instrument, started some kind of program, did some community service, got some kind of award. Sometimes I think they're just trying to measure whether you have irrational self-confidence.

It really is insanely hard to get into those schools these days.


Posted by: ogged | Link to this comment | 02- 3-14 12:46 PM
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Also, I'm not just talking about the CC comparison when I'm saying the students here at Children Of The Oppressors U seem better prepared. I'm talking about my (quite selective, relatively highly rated, public) final undergrad institution as well.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 02- 3-14 12:48 PM
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instead of the systems we see elsewhere in developed countries, where the work you actually do once admitted to a (usually bigger, usually public) university matters more

Setting myself up for jokes about "developed" but in, say, Iran, and some successful Asian countries, the opposite is the case: the college entrance exam is pretty much the defining moment in your educational and work life. In Iran (I don't know about the others) the exam determines not only where you can go to school, but what you can study.


Posted by: ogged | Link to this comment | 02- 3-14 12:48 PM
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Somehow I'm sounding like a defender of the status quo, but I'm all in favor of burning these schools to the ground.


Posted by: ogged | Link to this comment | 02- 3-14 12:50 PM
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Everyone wants to burn the schools to the ground; we're just arguing over why.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 02- 3-14 12:51 PM
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50 --- Obviously.


Posted by: Keir | Link to this comment | 02- 3-14 12:56 PM
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53 -- yes, but (without knowing anything about Iran) at least the Euro-international college entrance deal is (a) a subject-matter exam and not a character referendum on your school building project in Botswana+SAT scores+perfect grades at perfect suburban school and (b) in that system, the defining line is generally "are you in a university in a particular subject matter you have studied for not, and are you actually doing well on your exams in that area in your 10,000 person university" not "are you at Harvard". The foreign systems generally put more emphasis on what you actually have learned in your university, I think.

Or maybe this is just another instance of everything is better in topless Europe thinking [except for the Italian justice system and appreciation of v-8 375hp Hemi engines, of course].


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 02- 3-14 1:01 PM
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53: France has a highly competitive standardised exam for entry into the (quite small) grandes ecoles, which is the sorting device for entry into the higher civil service etc etc.


Posted by: Keir | Link to this comment | 02- 3-14 1:01 PM
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49: 47 -- right. I mean, what are you paying for?

There is certainly an element of students (and maybe more importantly their parents) as consumers.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 02- 3-14 1:03 PM
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56, 57 -------------------------- you people have no respect for convention.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 02- 3-14 1:06 PM
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I always liked the Canadian system*, where going "to university" is a big deal but the specific university you pick doesn't seem to matter all that much (except when you drill down very specifically to a particular field) and how you do there matters a lot more. Except that the hyper-competitive status conscious Canadians all seem to come to the US.

*I think, no direct experience.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 02- 3-14 1:09 PM
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Color me skeptical that acceptance to Oxbridge and the grandes ├ęcoles matters less than ones grades in college. (Now, in Germany my impression is that indeed the difference between schools is much smaller.)


Posted by: Unfoggetarian: "Pause endlessly, then go in." (9) | Link to this comment | 02- 3-14 1:10 PM
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Canada's admissions system is definitely lower-key, but Toronto, McGill, and Waterloo really are better than the other schools. I'm not sure there's really a big difference between the Canadian system and the California system.


Posted by: Unfoggetarian: "Pause endlessly, then go in." (9) | Link to this comment | 02- 3-14 1:12 PM
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In the real world, grades are not that important. Take me, for instance: my undergrad transcript includes a C+, a D, and a D-, and despite those grades I went on to be a successful Unfogged commenter.


Posted by: MAE | Link to this comment | 02- 3-14 1:14 PM
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Everyone has a pretty good idea of what the elite schools want, and some particular gift (ambiguity intended!) aside, it's a long list of skills and accomplishments: musical instrument, started some kind of program, did some community service, got some kind of award. Sometimes I think they're just trying to measure whether you have irrational self-confidence.

I hear that things have changed quite a bit: I'm pretty sure I didn't have many of those things on my high school resume (couple awards, okay, valedictorian, but no community service, no programs -- except that thing with the Girls' State, a pretend government thing -- not a joiner at all, and while there was piano for a dozen years, I don't think I mentioned it). I have no idea how I got into H-vahd, and indeed was dragged into applying at all, because surely, surely not.

I felt, during my college interview with an alumna, that she was judging my mental whateverness. That was okay.

I hear that things have changed quite a bit since then, though. I am surprised and saddened to hear that classes, courses, aren't actually hard any more at elite institutions. I thought it was pretty hard 20 years ago: that's my primary sentiment about it. It was fucking hard.

Everything I hear now from parents of prospective elite college admittants says that they're trying to check off the boxes ogged mentions.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 02- 3-14 1:15 PM
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64: The D- story please.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 02- 3-14 1:17 PM
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I have a kind of idle curiosity about whether there are any grad students here with worse undergrad grades than me. I think probably?


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 02- 3-14 1:17 PM
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In the UK, obviously Oxbridge has a disproportionate weight, but at the same time, a good degree from any Russell Group university will trump a poor Oxbridge degree, I think. (This is based on conversations with UK academics and similar, mostly, so it's obviously biased towards academic meritocratic settings, which may not carry over to other areas.)


Posted by: Keir | Link to this comment | 02- 3-14 1:18 PM
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63 -- if we burnt Stanford to the ground, I think something like the California system would be fine.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 02- 3-14 1:20 PM
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Among other reasons for burning it to the ground.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 02- 3-14 1:20 PM
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That doesn't sound all that different from the US. Certainly the best student at a flagship state university is going to get into better graduate schools than the average student from HYP. There are some snobby NYC consulting/investment bank type places that really only want people from top private schools, but I bet the same is true in London.


Posted by: Unfoggetarian: "Pause endlessly, then go in." (9) | Link to this comment | 02- 3-14 1:22 PM
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Of course, the role of Stanford in the Canadian system is played by, well, Stanford.


Posted by: Unfoggetarian: "Pause endlessly, then go in." (9) | Link to this comment | 02- 3-14 1:24 PM
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Would caltech also be burned in Halfordismo?


Posted by: Unfoggetarian: "Pause endlessly, then go in." (9) | Link to this comment | 02- 3-14 1:25 PM
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Again anecdotally going to an elite private university (and working in the lab of somebody famous) sure seems to be the easiest way to get into grad school in this department.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 02- 3-14 1:26 PM
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71 -- Eh, I don't know the UK well at all, but just based on the commenting here I'm pretty sure there's a really big difference. Possibly fueled by big differences in grade inflation!

It sounds like the difference between, say, Oxford and Leeds is more like the difference between, say, Berkeley and UC Riverside. Which is something but an entirely different kind of difference than that between, say, Harvard and Penn State (at least on the East Coast, where these things matter more).


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 02- 3-14 1:27 PM
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Perhaps Halford sees himself as Malcolm MacDowell in Lindsay Anderson's If

But the weapons were there from ROTC, where would we get them?


Posted by: Idp | Link to this comment | 02- 3-14 1:28 PM
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66: First semester freshman year, Intro to Calculus, and the deadly combination of an early morning class* and too much beer** the night before. The "D" was the same story, but in Intro to Physics. After that semester, I decided I would be better suited to a major in the humanities.

* At that time in my life, an "early morning class" was defined as any class that started before 11:30am.
** Or whatever beer-like swill was in those kegs at the parties we freshmen were able to crash. After the first glass or two, it was almost palatable.


Posted by: MAE | Link to this comment | 02- 3-14 1:28 PM
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Well right, but the average student isn't getting a job at the famous lab.


Posted by: Unfoggetarian: "Pause endlessly, then go in." (9) | Link to this comment | 02- 3-14 1:28 PM
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73 -- who knows what would or wouldn't be burned under Halfordismo. That's the glory of the system. More seriously . . . my whim of today is "nationalize Caltech and turn it into a state-run educational institution similar to the Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne."


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 02- 3-14 1:30 PM
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77: Ah, I thought an actual D- might involve some manner of special pleading to not get the well-deserved F or alternatively a vindictive prof doing the most damage without actually flunking you.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 02- 3-14 1:37 PM
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71 --- I think that the UK system is much flatter and broader. There's a drop between Oxbridge and the top end of the rest (in terms of prestige etc, not really quality), but it's not massive, and then there's much more of gentle gradient running from London down to the less prestigious universities.

And of course Oxbridge are large public institutions.

Which isn't to defend the UK set up, it's still very classist and inegalitarian. Just not as bad as the US East Coast, I don't think.


Posted by: Keir | Link to this comment | 02- 3-14 1:37 PM
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80: I got a D for the latter reason; with an F you could retake the class and wipe out the earlier grade, but not with a D. I definitely deserved and F, given that I stopped attending after three weeks and didn't take the midterm or final.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 02- 3-14 1:39 PM
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who knows what would or wouldn't be burned under Halfordismo.

Including a few at random pour encourager les autres.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 02- 3-14 1:40 PM
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New York and New England really are the worst on this front. (Not really the northeast, because Penn State and Rutgers are both excellent schools.) But there's more to the US than New York and New England.


Posted by: Unfoggetarian: "Pause endlessly, then go in." (9) | Link to this comment | 02- 3-14 1:40 PM
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The UK, especially the English, put way more weight on high school though, which is a very evil feature.


Posted by: Keir | Link to this comment | 02- 3-14 1:41 PM
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the US East Coast

This really is the way to think of it. I was recently looking at a list of the top feeder schools for the Ivies (I already missed the cutoff for my three-year-old to apply to the only local private school to make the list; he's screwed for life) and almost all of them are on the East Coast. Aside from a couple of throw-ins, it's like the world ends on the west side of Manhattan.


Posted by: ogged | Link to this comment | 02- 3-14 1:47 PM
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80: I've always suspected it was a case of the well-deserved F being rounded up to a D- by the nice prof who took pity on me. Wherever you are--Thanks!

As an epilogue to the D- story: I had to register for second-semester classes before it became clear just how bad my performance in that class would end up being, and I signed up for the follow-up class to that one. So the first day of second semester I show up to class (I don't know why--I had already pretty much decided that I was going to drop that class in favor of something else,) and there at the front of the class was the same professor. Immediately after class she took me aside, and, in the nicest way possible, suggested that it might be better for me if I didn't take that class. I said that I agreed. And so ended my distinguished career in mathematics.


Posted by: MAE | Link to this comment | 02- 3-14 1:49 PM
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he's screwed for life

So how do you think about this? I'm doubtful that you really think that, but I have no idea what your thinking is these days. Is it a case of putting every effort into ensuring that your children rise to the top?


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 02- 3-14 1:53 PM
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I think ogged probably takes a certain glee in the fact that his son is doomed to a life of penury and servitude. Mexicans are a strange and paradoxical people.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 02- 3-14 1:55 PM
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I was kidding; I wasn't really going to send him there. I thought it was funny, despite knowing about crazy wait lists for Manhattan pre-schools, that he had just turned three and we had already missed our chance. That said, I can be sanguine, because we live in a very good public school district (assuming we stay where we are).


Posted by: ogged | Link to this comment | 02- 3-14 1:55 PM
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Mexicans are a strange and paradoxical people.

Not so strange; I'd probably have to get a job if we wanted to send the kids to private school. A bridge too far, indeed.


Posted by: ogged | Link to this comment | 02- 3-14 1:58 PM
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Whew.

On the very good public school district: Nashville? Is that still on the table? How're they doing? One doesn't like to be mean or rude about the south, or about Tennessee, but you know, Tennessee. Might not be so good on the public schools, what with the general drive toward privatization. But I really don't know the particulars there.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 02- 3-14 2:03 PM
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My elite college admissions were all pretty clearly based on mental-whateverness rather than accomplisment - this being in the mid-nineties. I remember very clearly telling an admissions guy in an interview room at an airport hotel (he seemed substantially older, portly, balding, besuited; was probably all of forty) about my preference for recent South American fiction over recent experimental US fiction, for instance. I sometimes wonder what would have happened if I'd actually attended one of the snob schools to which I was admitted instead of the middling SLAC I chose. I pretty much based my choice on class anxiety and the fact that one of the elite school tour guides was super rude to my parents for what struck me at the time as upper crust contempt reasons.

I am looking forward to Halfordismo, actually. (It will be nice to have an ironclad excuse to give up veganism.) I plan on selling out to the new regime as soon as at all convenient.


Posted by: Frowner | Link to this comment | 02- 3-14 2:03 PM
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but you know, Tennessee

Meh, might be generally true in a North/South way (although I don't even know that much) but Nashville has some excellent magnet schools, with Hume-Fogg high school being the best of the lot. The interesting thing is that to go there (and it's considered the best high school in the state) the kid has to live in the city, which means that white flight takes you to next-best schools.


Posted by: ogged | Link to this comment | 02- 3-14 2:08 PM
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this being in the mid-nineties

I can't find the documentation online at the moment, but in the early nineties, U of C's acceptance rate was around 50%. Last year it was 8.8%. Which is to say, mental whateverness doesn't go as far as it used to. On the other hand, schools are clearly going out of their way to drive down their acceptable rate by encouraging more people to apply--this makes them look more selective, therefore more elite, etc etc., I blame US News & World Report.


Posted by: ogged | Link to this comment | 02- 3-14 2:12 PM
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I can't find the documentation online at the moment, but in the early nineties, U of C's acceptance rate was around 50%. Last year it was 8.8%.

I got in everywhere I applied (and it never occurred to me that I wouldn't, arrogant little person that I was) but I've often wondered if I'd make the cut today. It was virtually all mental-whateverness and a little bit of environmentalist activism, plus a certain glib facility with admissions essays - no musical instrument, no volunteering at homeless shelters, no sports. Oh well, none of it got me anywhere that a few years at a good community college couldn't have, so it all evens out in the end.


Posted by: Frowner | Link to this comment | 02- 3-14 2:18 PM
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Also, ogged, the U of C has done a lot to increase the number of people who apply, precisely so that they can have a lower acceptance rate, because people in power there worship at the altar of that false god, U.S. News and World Report.


Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 02- 3-14 2:20 PM
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I believe 95 and 97 show conclusively that the quality of University of Chicago admits hasn't increased, despite the decreasing acceptance rate.


Posted by: ogged | Link to this comment | 02- 3-14 2:22 PM
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Funny how ogged never thought of that mechanism.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 02- 3-14 2:22 PM
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99 w/o seeing 98.

The false god had them at 13.2% in 2012. List of 100 lowest.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 02- 3-14 2:25 PM
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2013 rate.


Posted by: ogged | Link to this comment | 02- 3-14 2:28 PM
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See, everyone claims to be deeply concerned about grade inflation.

But -- for instance -- here in our state, the legislature has just moved to tie a sizable portion of our funding to how many students we graduate.

And even before that, our own administration directly tied our raises to the number of students we "successfully" got through Comp II.

Further, two years ago, half the math faculty were fired (okay, failed to have their contracts renewed -- we are not a tenure-granting institution) because of the high level of D's and F's in the lower-level math classes. (About half our students were failing these classes, which frankly considering the abysmal nature of education in Arkansas what's remarkable is that half the students PASS the classes.)

What does this communicate to those of us who have managed to escape the purges?

I bet you can guess.


Posted by: delagar | Link to this comment | 02- 3-14 2:28 PM
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Instead of burning it to the ground and salting the earth in Hyde Park, I might leave the University of Chicago standing as an utterly defaced ruin, so that all may know of its destruction. The gallows holding the libertarians will certainly be up for a while regardless. I dunno, we'll see what happens.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 02- 3-14 2:30 PM
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Instead of burning it to the ground and salting the earth in Hyde Park, I might leave the University of Chicago standing as an utterly defaced ruin, so that all may know of its destruction. The gallows holding the libertarians will certainly be up for a while regardless. I dunno, we'll see what happens.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 02- 3-14 2:30 PM
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101: That's a big drop in rate in one year.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 02- 3-14 2:31 PM
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That's a big drop in rate in one year.

Yes, I'd say they hit their target.


Posted by: ogged | Link to this comment | 02- 3-14 2:33 PM
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86: A friend called the Harvard admissions office when he was six (this would be the mid-70s) and asked what he should do to attend "like John Adams" (he's a weird dude). The admissions officer replied without missing a beat: "Go to Andover."
(And he did! But not because of that.)


Posted by: oudemia | Link to this comment | 02- 3-14 2:49 PM
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Never wanted to be a grade-grubber, and never was.

The taxonomy of College Student types Murray Sperber uses in Beer and Circuses: Academic, Collegiate, Vocational and Independent (which isn't original with him) is congenial to my worldview. "Academics" come off badly.

God help me, I took my cue from an aside in Anthony Burgess' Re:Joyce, about the kind of student Stephen Daedalus was, the kind from Chaucer on, "unwhinning," whose type Burgess thought had disappeared with WWII. A spiritually ambitious boy, I was determined to recreate him in myself.


Posted by: Idp | Link to this comment | 02- 3-14 3:16 PM
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102: Yeah, there's definitely a lot of pressure to inflate grades from state governments. The cynic in me wants to attribute that to state government official's children probably not being the most motivated students.


Posted by: Unfoggetarian: "Pause endlessly, then go in." (9) | Link to this comment | 02- 3-14 3:30 PM
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104: I thought we'd decided that like Stasi headquarters, the University of Chicago would be scrupulously maintained as a memorial and museum by the association of those citizens who stormed it?


Posted by: Alex | Link to this comment | 02- 3-14 3:56 PM
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My plan is for the Calabat to inherit my brainpower and then get the regional diversity ticket.

102: 66% of the state is to have a certificate or degree by 2020. I have a feeling that "certificate" is going to start to take on a lot of rhetorical importance.


Posted by: Cala | Link to this comment | 02- 3-14 4:00 PM
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Do we have any idea whether people are leaving education with more or less learnt than they used to have? (With easy search, this might not even be the most important criterion.)


Posted by: clew | Link to this comment | 02- 3-14 4:25 PM
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63: I would put UBC on the list too, but maybe that's field-dependent.

And I still haven't read half the thread, but I think that the US university system is highly optimized for producing important research. This has little to do with undergraduate education, of course. And it may, again, be field-dependent. But there really are fairly sharp differences between amount and quality of research productivity when you compare the US to other countries, or top US universities to middling ones.


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 02- 3-14 5:05 PM
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92 One doesn't like to be mean or rude about the south, or about Tennessee, but you know, Tennessee.

Really, this is one of those places where you should stop when you get to the "but".


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 02- 3-14 5:14 PM
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113.2 has always been my vague impression as well, and I guess Essear confirms it, but it doesn't really seem necessary for first-class scientific research to also have the universities [at least in their undergraduate education function] be grade-inflated credential mills whose primary function is to secure elite status upon admission of their students, in exchange for money.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 02- 3-14 5:26 PM
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Is 113.2 really true, though? The UK and Germany both have more Nobel prizes per capita, for example. The UK almost double, in fact.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 02- 3-14 5:32 PM
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I'm kinda suspicious of 113.2 partly because it's not exactly true in my field (which is very much atypical and isn't really a counterexample) and partly because I'm always suspicious of "this bad thing is needed in order to achieve this good thing".

So I am a bit curious.


Posted by: Keir | Link to this comment | 02- 3-14 5:33 PM
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The LRB had an article a year or so back targeted at the relentless drive by UK university senior administrators to emulate the top US universities.

http://www.lrb.co.uk/v33/n10/howard-hotson/dont-look-to-the-ivy-league


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 02- 3-14 5:36 PM
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UK universities are distributed fairly uniformly throughout the table, which suggests that there is a smooth and gradual transition from the top tier of universities to the next level down, and so on. The US university system, by contrast, appears to concentrate a hugely disproportionate share of resources in a small group of very wealthy and exclusive private institutions

Hah! My intuitive expectations conform to someone else's interpretation of arbitrary data!


Posted by: Keir | Link to this comment | 02- 3-14 5:39 PM
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The UK scientific research establishment seems to be in a state of chaos. Not even considering funding levels, the stories I see about having to justify everything in terms of nonsense about productivity and quantification and patentable innovations you can guarantee in the next 24 months just sound appalling.


Posted by: Cryptic ned | Link to this comment | 02- 3-14 5:40 PM
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re: 120

I don't think anyone would hold up the UK system as a model, either. There's a lot of perverse and weird shit around research assessment, and funding, and our current government is, I think, intent on wrecking fucking everything at every level of education from age 4 up. Nevertheless, a lot of people continue to produce good work, and a lot of departments remain highly ranked internationally in their fields.

I'm just pushing back at the claim that the US university system is obviously superior. I'm not advancing the claim that the UK system is superior either.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 02- 3-14 5:48 PM
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I just get the impression that some people (not you) view the onslaught of research assessment and "running the university like a business" as being American-style management. When in fact the UK universities have gone way, way farther in that direction than US universities have.


Posted by: Cryptic ned | Link to this comment | 02- 3-14 5:54 PM
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117 partly because I'm always suspicious of "this bad thing is needed in order to achieve this good thing".

I'm not making that argument. I have very little to say about undergraduate education, not yet having been involved in it except as a student. I'm just saying that the system as it exists is (imperfectly) optimizing something orthogonal to that. Maybe you can optimize more than one thing at the same time.

116: I would guess that's different if you consider only the last few decades. Germany got a lot of Nobel prizes in the first few decades of the 20th century and then started getting a lot fewer for obvious reasons. But the UK system seems a lot like the US system, to me. Only a handful of institutions produce most of the noteworthy research.


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 02- 3-14 5:57 PM
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And of course, lots of universities have some excellent researchers or excellent departments; I'm not dismissing anyone. But there's something to be said for having elite institutions that concentrate a lot of very good people in the same place; the output is nonlinear. (I mean, to some extent this argument is self-serving, and I would say this, wouldn't I, but I think there's something to it.)


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 02- 3-14 6:00 PM
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Re: 122

Yeah. Much of the worst UK stuff is people who think they are running things like a business (and thus in an American manner) but are in fact engaged in some sort of cargo cult ritual emulation of business. Except higher management share the desire to pay themselves what they believe they are worth (lots) while paying everyone else less.

Re:123

There's a graph of Nobel share over time. Germany has indeed declined over time, and the US share increased but the UK share has remained more or less constant throughout.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 02- 3-14 6:01 PM
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125: Fair enough. I'm certainly willing to exclude the UK from my vague "other countries" statement.


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 02- 3-14 6:07 PM
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I'm pretty sure that the "good researchers" thing is 95% distinct from the inflate-grades-for-undergrads-everything-hinges-on-undergrad-admissions thing.*

Concentrating the top theoretical physicists at 5 locations in the United States to do cutting edge research is very different than picking and choosing the "top" 6000 undergrads or so every single year (largely on bizarre leadership metrics like building schools in Botswana) and concentrating them in a few institutions where they are guaranteed pretty good grades.

*except for funding, of course. But still a huge chunk of funding even at Essear U for the real sciences comes either from the government or foundations with broader interests, not just from rich alumns who want to give back to dear old Essear U because they are rich. I think, anyway.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 02- 3-14 6:15 PM
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Toronto, McGill, and Waterloo

Uh-huh, uh-huh, what? I'm not sure what field you're in -- math, right? -- but in most circles Waterloo isn't considered on par with the first two.


Posted by: Von Wafer | Link to this comment | 02- 3-14 6:42 PM
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123 - fair enough.

127 - I don't think that's true. I don't think it's chance that the choice of having a few very elite institutions and a bunch of meh ones vs broadly very good institutions across the board recurs and breaks in the same way in both fields.


Posted by: Keir | Link to this comment | 02- 3-14 6:43 PM
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I thought we were talking about undergraduates, not faculty.


Posted by: Unfoggetarian: "Pause endlessly, then go in" (9) | Link to this comment | 02- 3-14 7:09 PM
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128 - I can't speak to the school as a whole, but their CS department is absolutely top-notch.


Posted by: snarkout | Link to this comment | 02- 3-14 7:18 PM
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At any rate, Waterloo is an engineering school so I wouldn't expect them to be uniformly excellent as you move further from engineering.


Posted by: Unfoggetarian: "Pause endlessly, then go in" (9) | Link to this comment | 02- 3-14 7:23 PM
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Also, isn't there a fancy/crazy physics, uh, center there now?


Posted by: oudemia | Link to this comment | 02- 3-14 7:42 PM
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Much of the worst UK stuff is people who think they are running things like a business (and thus in an American manner) but are in fact engaged in some sort of cargo cult ritual emulation of business.

You have just describe a large swath of US philanthropy, including most of the so-called "education reform" crowd.

I so want to steal this phrase.


Posted by: Witt | Link to this comment | 02- 3-14 7:53 PM
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But why doesn't the cargo cult extend to paying for business class plane tickets for professors?


Posted by: Unfoggetarian: "Pause endlessly, then go in" (9) | Link to this comment | 02- 3-14 8:00 PM
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DescribeD.


Posted by: Witt | Link to this comment | 02- 3-14 8:02 PM
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133: fancy/crazy/awesome, yes.


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 02- 3-14 8:07 PM
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135: It does, just not for peons like us.


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 02- 3-14 8:16 PM
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131: then again, the same could be said for UMass Amherst and, oh, don't even ask me about that school as a whole.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 02- 3-14 8:33 PM
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135: you want business class tickets for professors, you want those weird Ivy and near-Ivy branches in the UAE. Professor get truly ridiculous salaries, free housing, free private school for the kids, first class travel to any conference, and a couple of free first class trips home for the whole family every year.

Delivery of cargo is not yet confirmed.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 02- 3-14 8:35 PM
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But if you believe in norm based education, and you believe in improvements in teaching and students, surely grades should be going up without any "inflation" occurring?

Up to a point Lord Copper. If you take this to its logical conclusion you'll end up requiring biological evolution of students to enable them to type faster or something, so that the grades can go on improving.


Posted by: chris y | Link to this comment | 02- 4-14 2:50 AM
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Is 113.2 really true, though? The UK and Germany both have more Nobel prizes per capita, for example. The UK almost double, in fact.

Of course, as the Faroe Islands, Saint Lucia, Luxembourg and Iceland could tell you, there are two routes to getting a lot of Nobel Prizes per capita...


Posted by: seeds | Link to this comment | 02- 4-14 6:20 AM
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I missed this thread earlier, but in my experience as a grad student in Canada, no one cared that much what college anyone went to, but I got the impression of some prestige accorded to people who went to U of T at some point in their lives (maybe more prestige accorded to having gone to some grad school there), and also McGill and UBC.

Maybe no one in my program went to Waterloo, so I don't know about that. However, I've heard they stop limericks at line two. Waterloo definitely stands out in some fields.

Also, for my masters fields, everyone knows that grades in those classes are basically bullshit and meaningless for future purposes and I could easily see people in more academic status conscious fields caring more about prestige. But whether you went to SFU or UFV didn't seem to matter to my classmates and there didn't seem to be much correlation between universities of prior attendance and, well, anything really.

U.S. universities had about the same range of prestige that they have in the US, except the part where to non-Americans Berkeley always seems to rank higher than it does to Americans.


Posted by: fake accent | Link to this comment | 02- 4-14 9:12 PM
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Could also be that students are better. That's supported by test scores.


Posted by: Uncle Bruno | Link to this comment | 02- 5-14 10:00 AM
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wow, great thread. wish i was here to add my incidental comments, but too late. still there's this:

there's something to be said for having elite institutions that concentrate a lot of very good people in the same place; the output is nonlinear

there was an interesting study of academic productivity in finance (no, not my field, but close enough that I'll probably be swinging from the gallows when the Halfordismo revolution happens). it found that pre-IT being in a top department accounted for a big proportion of publishing productivity, but that has fallen more recently. the authors inferred that IT could keep productive partnerships going LD in a way that didn't used to be possible. they then made the claim that this accounted for a portion of the increase in salaries in academic finance because a competing offer to go to, say, champaign or durham could be a credible threat. I still think hedge fund hiring of phd's has more to do with it, but...

btw, ogged, as a literate outsider (literate as in, i read some of the f**in comments but outsider as in intermittent commenter and not connected to anyone irl) my curiousity is killing me - did you make your kiddos with the lifeguard? i love the idea that maybe you did because i remember those early discussions about resetting the tivo.


Posted by: simulated annealing | Link to this comment | 02- 6-14 6:03 AM
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Ha. No.


Posted by: ogged | Link to this comment | 02- 6-14 6:16 AM
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Illiterate lurkers have even less well developed theories on ogged's family life.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 02- 6-14 7:09 AM
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