How Advanced Placement Classes Leave Kids Underprepared for College

A fascinating article that compares how well students perform in high school advanced placement classes and how they perform in college exposes the terrible disconnect created by high schools in teaching students how to think and hold critical discussion that occurs at the college level.

Many states have already reported that college students are not prepared, and places like California have seen remedial math and English classes exceed the 50-percent mark. The National Assessment of Educational Progress found in 2013 that only 39 percent of students scored at a math level and 38 percent scored at a reading level needed to be academically prepared for college.

Despite the highest rates ever recorded for high school graduations in the U.S., the dropout rates for college are also exceedingly high, wasting time and money while leaving students without the skills they need for employment.

Brookings Institute, a D.C.-based think tank, noted more than 20 small-scale studies by college professors since 1980 have been conducted using “their own students to investigate how much high school knowledge predicted performance in their college courses.”

Here’s what the studies, and then Brookings, found:

These published studies collectively show that the effect of high school course-taking on college grades ranges from -5.3 to +6.7 points on a 100-point scale. When comparing students of similar race, gender, standardized test scores, and socioeconomic background, most of the papers find that high school course-taking makes no more than a two percent difference in the final college grade, even when high school courses include Advanced Placement. …

Analyzing thousands of transcripts from the Department of Education’s National Educational Longitudinal Study, we found confirmatory evidence that advanced high school courses apparently do little to prepare students for success in college coursework.

Specifically, we showed that students with one more year of high school instruction in physics, psychology, economics, or sociology on average have grades in their first college course in the same subject just 0.003 to 0.2 points higher on a four-point scale. For example, for students of similar race, socioeconomic status, and high school standardized test scores, those who took a year of high school economics earn a final grade in their college economics class 0.03 points higher than students who have never encountered that subject before. What’s more, these trivially small differences hold even for students who took exactly the same college course.

The authors at Brookings noted that what doesn’t work is better known that what does, and point to a lack of argumentative and non-fiction writing as barriers to performance in college-level courses. The also suggest teaching with less traditional models like AP classes and start focusing more on “non-cognitive skill development and technical education.”

Read the Brookings Institute’s report on college preparedness.

Is Political Extremism the Result of Boredom?

The European Journal of Social Psychology has published a set of experiments that suggests that people who tend toward political extremism suffer from boredom more than everybody else.

In their initial experiment the researchers recruited 97 people from a university campus. The participants first indicated their political orientation (whether they considered themselves liberal or conservative) before being randomly assigned to complete either a task deemed to be highly boring or a comparatively less boring task. …

The researchers found that liberals in the low boredom group were more moderate in their , compared to liberals in the high boredom group. A similar trend was found for conservatives, though it was not statistically significant as there were only 26 politically right-wing participants, which reduced the study’s statistical power. …

The study authors also conducted a survey of 859 people living in Ireland and found that people who were easily bored tended to endorse more extreme political views. Another survey of 300 people found that being prone to boredom was associated with searching for meaning in life, which was in turn associated with political extremism. …

The study authors also conducted a survey of 859 people living in Ireland and found that people who were easily bored tended to endorse more extreme political views. Another survey of 300 people found that being prone to boredom was associated with searching for meaning in life, which was in turn associated with political extremism.

Dr Wijnand van Tilburg from King’s College London said: ‘Boredom puts people on edge – it makes them seek engagements that are challenging, exciting, and that offer a sense of purpose. Political ideologies can aid this existential quest.’

He added: ‘Boredom motivates people to alter their situation and fosters the engagement in activities that seem more meaningful than those currently at hand.’ The authors suggest that adopting a more extreme political ideology is one way that people re-inject meaningfulness into a boring situation.

While people choose political views based on a variety of factors, the creeping and insidious nature of political argumentation, both in the U.S. and elsewhere, may be a factor driving people to political extremes, say the studies authors, because it releases them from their humdrum existence.

Of course, people could choose to participate in exciting activities that aren’t politically motivated, like bull riding or car racing. Then perhaps there’d be less partisanship and better solutions to policy differences.

Read more about the study on political extremism.

Pew Report: 5 Differences Between Americans and Europeans

Yes, Americans and Europeans share a commitment to democratic principles, but differences between Americans and Europeans are notable when it comes to personal liberty and the individual’s role in achieving one’s own success.

And while historically, American sensibilities about the role of government, individualism, and freedom can be drawn from some of the great European thinkers of the past centuries, a recent Pew poll of several nations found that Americans have a much greater affinity for religious worship, freedom of expression, and self-determination.

Pew reached five conclusions from its polling, including that

— “Americans are more likely to believe they control their own destiny,” and

— “Americans tend to prioritize individual liberty, while Europeans tend to value the role of the state to ensure no one in society is in need.”

Read more about the five ways Americans and Europeans are different.


Accounting for the Rise in College Tuition

If tuition and fees — net of aid — had risen only as fast as skyrocketing health care costs had from 1987 through 2010, they would have increased to $8,700 from $6,600. Instead, they hit $10,300, according to the new working paper “Accounting for the Rise in College Tuition” by Grey Gordon and Aaron Hedlund.

Here’s the abstract:

We develop a quantitative model of higher education to test explanations for the steep rise in college tuition between 1987 and 2010. The framework extends the quality-maximizing college paradigm of Epple, Romano, Sarpca, and Sieg (2013) and embeds it in an incomplete markets, life-cycle environment. We measure how much changes in underlying costs, reforms to the Federal Student Loan Program (FSLP), and changes in the college earnings premium have caused tuition to increase. All these changes combined generate a 106% rise in net tuition between 1987 and 2010, which more than accounts for the 78% increase seen in the data. Changes in the FSLP alone generate a 102% tuition increase, and changes in the college premium generate a 24% increase. Our findings cast doubt on Baumol’s cost disease as a driver of higher tuition.

Read the research study submitted to the National Bureau of Economic Research.

Are the Danes Really the Happiest People on Earth? A Semantics Test

According to a new global narrative, the Danes are the happiest people in the world. This paper takes a critical look at the international media discourse of “happiness,” tracing its roots and underlying assumptions. Equipped with the Natural Semantic Metalanguage approach to linguistic and cultural analysis, a new in-depth semantic analysis of the story of “Danish happiness” is developed. It turns out that the allegedly happiest people on earth do not (usually) talk and think about life in terms of “happiness,” but rather through a different set of cultural concepts and scripts, all guided by the Danish cultural keyword “lykke.” The semantics of lykke is explicated along with two related concepts
livsglæde, roughly, ‘life joy’ and livslyst, ‘life pleasure,’ 
and based on semantic and ethnopragmatic analysis, a set of lykke-related cultural scripts is provided. With new evidence from Danish, it is argued that global Anglo-International “happiness discourse” misrepresents local meanings and values, and that the one-sided focus on “happiness across nations” in the social sciences is in dire need of cross-linguistic confrontation. The paper calls for a post-happiness turn in the study of words and values across languages, and for a new critical awareness of linguistic and conceptual biases in Anglo-international discourse.
Click to read the research on the Story of Danish Happiness.


Study: Religion and Bank Loan Terms

Wen He and Maggie (Rong) Hu, senior lecturers at the University of New South Wales Business School in Australia, examine whether religion affects the terms of bank loans.

In the paper’s abstract, they write, “We hypothesize that lenders value the traits of religious adherents, such as risk aversion, ethical behavior and honesty, and thus offer favorable loan terms to religious borrowers. Consistent with this hypothesis, we find that corporate borrowers located in counties with a high level of religiosity are charged lower interest rates, have larger loan amounts and fewer loan covenants. These results suggest that the corporate culture of borrowers influences the availability and cost of bank loans.”

According to the introduction, the “study aims to extend this stream of research by investigating whether the market understands and values corporate behavior that is driven by religions. In particular, we study if one important group of stakeholders, namely bank lenders, appreciates and rewards the conservative and ethical behavior of firms located in more religious areas.”

“This study is important for two reasons. First, rational economic agents would expect good corporate behavior to be rewarded by the market, which provides incentives for them to behave ethically. Finding evidence that the markets reward good corporate behavior related to religious social norms would provide economic support to prior studies in social finance and religions. Second, bank loans have become the predominant source of external financing for U.S. companies. In 2007, for example, large U.S. corporations raised a record $2,282 billion new capital from the syndicated loan market, compared with $168 billion from the equity market. Levine and Zervos (1998) find that bank loans are strongly and positively related to economic growth across countries. It is thus important to understand how banks make lending decisions and whether nonfinancial information, such as religious social norms, affects the terms of loan contracts.”

Read the report on religion and bank loan terms here.

Novelty or Surprise: A Study in Motivation and Learning

Novelty and surprise play significant roles in animal behavior and in attempts to understand the neural mechanisms underlying it. They also play important roles in technology, where detecting observations that are novel or surprising is central to many applications, such as medical diagnosis, text processing, surveillance, and security.

Theories of motivation, particularly of intrinsic motivation, place novelty and surprise among the primary factors that arouse interest, motivate exploratory or avoidance behavior, and drive learning. In many of these studies, novelty and surprise are not distinguished from one another: the words are used more-or-less interchangeably. However, while undeniably closely related, novelty and surprise are very different.

The purpose of this article is first to highlight the differences between novelty and surprise and to discuss how they are related by presenting an extensive review of mathematical and computational proposals related to them, and then to explore the implications of this for understanding behavioral and neuroscience data. We argue that opportunities for improved understanding of behavior and its neural basis are likely being missed by failing to distinguish between novelty and surprise.

Read more on the role of novelty and surprise in motivation and learning at the National Center for Biotechnology Information website.

Chicken or Egg: Does Happiness Itself Directly Affect Mortality?


Poor health can cause unhappiness and poor health increases mortality. Previous reports of reduced mortality associated with happiness could be due to the increased mortality of people who are unhappy because of their poor health. Also, unhappiness might be associated with lifestyle factors that can affect mortality. We aimed to establish whether, after allowing for the poor health and lifestyle of people who are unhappy, any robust evidence remains that happiness or related subjective measures of well-being directly reduce mortality.


The Million Women Study is a prospective study of UK women recruited between 1996 and 2001 and followed electronically for cause-specific mortality. 3 years after recruitment, the baseline questionnaire for the present report asked women to self-rate their health, happiness, stress, feelings of control, and whether they felt relaxed. The main analyses were of mortality before Jan 1, 2012, from all causes, from ischaemic heart disease, and from cancer in women who did not have heart disease, stroke, chronic obstructive lung disease, or cancer at the time they answered this baseline questionnaire. We used Cox regression, adjusted for baseline self-rated health and lifestyle factors, to calculate mortality rate ratios (RRs) comparing mortality in women who reported being unhappy (ie, happy sometimes, rarely, or never) with those who reported being happy most of the time.


Of 719,671 women in the main analyses (median age 59 years [IQR 55–63]), 39% (282 619) reported being happy most of the time, 44% (315 874) usually happy, and 17% (121 178) unhappy. During 10 years (SD 2) follow-up, 4% (31 531) of participants died. Self-rated poor health at baseline was strongly associated with unhappiness. But after adjustment for self-rated health, treatment for hypertension, diabetes, asthma, arthritis, depression, or anxiety, and several sociodemographic and lifestyle factors (including smoking, deprivation, and body-mass index), unhappiness was not associated with mortality from all causes (adjusted RR for unhappy vs happy most of the time 0·98, 95% CI 0·94–1·01), from ischaemic heart disease (0·97, 0·87–1·10), or from cancer (0·98, 0·93–1·02). Findings were similarly null for related measures such as stress or lack of control.

World Family Map 2014

The family is the core institution for child-rearing worldwide, and decades of research have shown that strong families promote positive child outcomes. For this reason theWorld Family Map Project monitors family well-being and investigates how family characteristics affect children’s healthy development around the globe. Families do not operate in a vacuum: their ability to provide for their children and supervise their development depends not only on parenting behaviors and attitudes but also on the social, economic, and policy environments that surround them. Yet efforts to strengthen families are often considered off-limits or of low priority for policy and programmatic interventions, especially in times of financial strain. With the indicators and analyses presented here, this project points individuals, families, communities, NGOs, and governments to some key factors affecting child and family well-being that policies and programs can shape in order to foster strong families and positive outcomes for children.

The World Family Map Project monitors global changes in the areas of family structure, family socioeconomics, family processes, and family culture, focusing on 16 specific indicators selected by an expert group because of their known relationships to child outcomes in the research literature. Each annual report of the project provides the latest data on these indicators, as well as an original essay focusing on one aspect of the family and how it relates to child well-being in different parts of the world. In both the indicators and the essay, the highest quality data available are shared for countries that are representative of each region of the world. Scholars around the globe contribute to the project as advisors and analysts, stimulating a large community of researchers to improve data and research on families and children.

The inaugural edition of the World Family Map provided indicators of family well-being worldwide and an essay focusing on family living arrangements and education outcomes. This second annual edition of the World Family Map, sponsored by Child Trends and a range of educational and nongovernmental institutions from across the globe, provides updated indicators and a new essay focusing on union stability and early childhood health in developing countries, as well as a brief analysis of psychological distress among 9- to 16-year-olds in the European Union.

Read more.

Effects of College Education on Demonstrated Happiness in the United States

Among the many documented benefits of a college education is a higher level of self-reported happiness. The present work considers instead the level of demonstrated happiness and unhappiness within groups, the latter proxied by the conditional probability of suicide within groups having a college education and those without.

[Read more…]

Back to work: How to improve the prospects of low-income Americans

The lackluster economic recovery, which is now more than 50 months old, has not brought relief to American individuals, families and communities. According to the latest data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 10.2 million Americans are unemployed. 3.6 million have been jobless for more than 27 weeks.7.3 million are involuntarily working part-time.

Perceived control reduces mortality risk at low, not high, education levels

People who believe they control their own destiny actually live longer than people who lack that sense. The effect was muted among the highly educated — but for people with less schooling, an ethic of personal responsibility literally proved to be a life-saver.


Economic growth evens out happiness: Evidence from six surveys

In spite of the great U-turn that saw income inequality rise in Western countries in the 1980s, happiness inequality has dropped in countries that have experienced income growth (but not in those that did not). Modern growth has reduced the share of both the “very unhappy” and the “perfectly happy.”

Where is the land of opportunity? The geography of intergenerational mobility in the United States

This study examines how parent income, inequality, school quality, social capital, and family stability affect intergenerational upward mobility.

The affective profiles in the USA: happiness, depression, life satisfaction, and happiness-increasing strategies

The affective profiles model categorizes individuals as self-fulfilling (high positive affect, low negative affect), high affective (high positive affect, high negative affect), low affective (low positive affect, low negative affect), and self-destructive (low positive affect, high negative affect). The aim of the present study was to investigate differences between profiles regarding happiness, depression, and satisfaction.

Is self-esteem a cause or consequence of social support? A 4-year longitudinal study

Considerable research has been devoted to examining the relations between self-esteem and social support. However, the exact nature and direction of these relations are not well understood. … Self-esteem reliably predicted increasing levels of social support quality and network size across time. In contrast, the consequence model was not supported.

Spending money on others promotes happiness

Although much research has examined the effect of income on happiness, we suggest that how people spend their money may be at least as important as how much money they earn. Specifically, we hypothesized that spending money on other people may have a more positive impact on happiness than spending money on oneself.

Some uses of happiness data in economics

Economists are trained to infer preferences from observed choices; that is, economists typically watch what people do, rather than listening to what people say. Happiness research departs from this tradition. Instead, happiness researchers have been particularly interested in self-reports of well-being.

The pursuit of happiness: The architecture of sustainable change

Emerging sources of optimism exist regarding the possibility of permanent increases in happiness. Drawing on the past well-being literature, the authors propose that a person’s chronic happiness level is governed by 3 major factors: a genetically determined set point for happiness, happiness-relevant circumstantial factors, and happiness-relevant
activities and practices.

On happiness and human potentials: A review of research on hedonic and eudaimonic well-being

Current research on well-being has been derived from two general perspectives: the hedonic approach, which focuses on happiness and defines well-being in terms of pleasure attainment and pain avoidance; and the eudaimonic approach, which focuses on meaning and self-realization.

The Oxford Happiness Questionnaire: A compact scale for the measurement of psychological well-being

An improved instrument, the Oxford Happiness Questionnaire (OHQ), has been derived from the Oxford Happiness Inventory, (OHI). The OHI comprises 29 items, each involving the selection of one of four options that are different for each item. The OHQ includes similar items to those of the OHI.

Income and happiness: Towards a unified theory

Material aspirations are initially fairly similar among income groups; consequently more income brings greater happiness. Over the life cycle, however, aspirations grow along with income, and undercut the favorable effect of income growth on happiness, although the cross-sectional happiness-income difference persists. People think they were less happy in the past and will be happier in the future.

What can economists learn from happiness research?

Reported subjective well-being is a satisfactory empirical approximation to individual utility and that happiness research is able to contribute important insights for economics. We report how the economic variables income, unemployment and inflation affect happiness as well as how institutional factors, in particular the type of democracy and the extent of government decentralization, systematically influence how satisfied individuals are.

Happiness, economy, and institutions

Institutional factors in the form of direct democracy (via initiatives and referenda) and federal structure (local autonomy) systematically and sizeably raise self-reported individual well-being in a cross-regional econometric analysis. This positive effect can be attributed to political outcomes closer to voters’ preferences, as well as to the procedural utility of political participation possibilities.