Fraternities, bad behavior, correlation and causation

Interesting piece in Inside Higher Ed asking if colleges should ban all fraternities.  Of course this will never happen, but it is interesting to discuss.  Any why should colleges think about doing this?

While the majority of fraternity members do not commit rape, they are three times as likely to commit rape as non-members, according to a 2007 study. Another study, published in the NASPA Journal in 2009, found that 86 percent of fraternity house residents engaged in binge drinking, compared to 45 percent of non-fraternity men. Fraternity house members were twice as likely to fall behind in academic work, engage in unplanned sex, or be injured after drinking.

Fraternity members were more likely to have unprotected sex, damage property, and drive, all while under the influence of alcohol.

“It’s not just a stereotype,” said George Koob, the director of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. “There is pretty good evidence that fraternity individuals are drinking more, particularly in the heavy range of binge drinking. They have more problems associated with drinking. They have more impairment in occupational functioning related to drinking, such as getting homework and term papers done.

Wow.  Those are some damning statistics.  Of course, there is an implication that fraternities play a causal role in this.  I think they do, but I suspect even more at play is the type of individuals drawn to a fraternity (selection bias!) and that it is the type of young man more likely to abuse alcohol, women, etc.  That said, given what we know of social psychology, bringing a bunch of such men all together in one reinforcing organization does seem like it would only serve to heighten and feed these worst tendencies.  So, ban fraternities?  Not so, say many of the experts:

But, I don’t think you should go about banning fraternities. Punishment is rarely the way to go about anything like this. If you punish a behavior, it comes back with a vengeance.”

In the case of banning a Greek system, that behavior could come back in the form of off-campus houses or underground fraternities that could not be regulated by colleges.

“There’s always the risk that if you force fraternities off campus, they just form their own houses off campus,” said Kevin Kruger, president of NASPA: Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education. “They’re still there, exhibiting the same behaviors, only now they don’t really have to answer to anybody.”

Personally, I’m not convinced.  I suspect that cost/benefit wise you get greater benefit from the ban than the cost of driving the behavior underground.  The simple truth is that there are many, many individuals who will join a university (and thus society) sanctioned organization who will not join an underground animal house.  I imagine the problems would be even more severe in “underground fraternities” but that the actual participation in such organizations would be dramatically lower than in university-sanctioned fraternities.

But you know what, there should be data on this from natural experiments:

For many college presidents, too many aspects of Greek life are not being “done right,” Kruger said, and patience is wearing thin. The colleges that have abolished fraternities — mostly small private liberal arts colleges like Colby, Bowdoin, Middlebury, and Williams — say publicly that they do not regret the decision. While the bans at these colleges did lead to secret fraternities sprouting up off-campus, their influence has waned over the years.

Surely somebody has done an actual empirical study at one of these places (and if not, that’s one helluva dropped ball).  Did the problems of binge drinking, sexual assault, academic slacking, etc., actually get better or worse at these colleges?  Give me data!  That said, clearly these universities did not see the horrible backlash warned by the fraternity proponents.

I eagerly await my comments on the great benefit of fraternities.  And I will not discount the very real benefits.  But in my cost/benefit world, those benefits need to be pretty damn good to outweigh the very clear costs.

We’re 51!

From the Greensboro News & Record.  Ugh.

Among the 50 states and the District of Columbia, North Carolina ranks as the worst state for teachers, according to a new ranking by WalletHub.

The personal finance website analyzed data along 18 categories to come to its rankings.

The metrics it looked at included looks at states’ median starting salaries, unemployment rates and teacher job openings, among other factors.

Here is where North Carolina ranked in several categories:

  • Average starting salary, 41,
  • Median annual salary, 47,
  • Unemployment rate, 38,
  • Ten-year change in teacher salary, 51,
  • Pupil-to-teacher ratio, 32,
  • Public school spending per student, 48,
  • Teachers’ wage disparity, 43, and
  • Safest schools, 40.

I enjoyed all the comments about how it is the Democrat’s fault that the ten-year change in teacher salary is 51.  And whereas Democrats can take a portion of the blame, Republicans have controlled the legislature (and the budgeting process) since 2011 and we have seen our teacher salary ranking decline rapidly in recent years.

We don’t govern by public opinion polls

I read this Op-Ed in the N&O yesterday about how we need to increase funding for early childhood education.  Honestly, we, really, really should.  Policy-wise this is a no-brainer– the benefits well exceed the costs.  Alas, the costs are now and the benefits are down the road.  And politicians?  Well, you know how long down the road they are looking.  And, you know, we might actually need taxes (heaven forbid) to pay for it.  The authors make their case with a recent advocacy poll:

Given that it is election season, perhaps the most compelling numbers in the poll are these: A majority of voters are more likely to vote for candidates who support early childhood education, including 73 percent of mothers, 57 percent of moderates and 53 percent of Independents. In fact, nearly a third of voters even said they would be much more likely to vote for a candidate who supported investments in early childhood education, with only 9 percent saying they would be less likely.

Now, I don’t doubt that’s true, but in the real electoral world, voters are going to care way more if there is a D or R in front of the candidate’s name.  Not to mention, where the candidate stands on abortion, taxes, guns, etc.

Also, there’s this:

Nearly three-quarters of North Carolina voters (71 percent) support greater federal investment in local early childhood education even if it increased the deficit in the short term but paid for itself in the long term by improving children’s education, health and economic situations.

Sure, poll respondents say they are willing to accept the short-term deficit increase (as well they should, just like any investment you pay upfront), but think about all the politicians railing against this policy for increasing the deficit!

The truth is, if only Democrats were in charge, we could get this policy, but despite what Republican voters say in the poll, there’s just not enough support in the Republican party.  Reminded me very much of a post by Hans Noel earlier this week on paid sick leave.  The gist– intensity matters, a lot:

What am I to make of the survey data Deng reports, that shows that 76 percent of Republicans in a survey support requiring employers to offer paid sick leave? In short, those are voters, who were asked about a policy in isolation, without much consideration of other policies or even any details.[1] What matters is not just what people want, but what they would prioritize. It’s not who likes a policy, but who intensely wants it. This survey shows preferences before politics gets involved. And no matter how idealistic we want to be, politics will get involved. The fact that large majorities want something might make us think it should be enacted, but that doesn’t mean it’s politically wise for Republicans to try to enact it…

So the angle on this survey should not be that this is a winner for Republicans. It probably isn’t.[2] The angle is something deeper. What are we to do when a majority wants something, but the minority gets its way? Here, that seems like an injustice. And maybe it is. On the other hand, a majority was not in favor of civil rights in the 1960s. A majority of both parties opposed civil rights legislation, and it stayed off the agenda for decades. Then, the Democratic coalition began to push out its segregationist elements and advocated for the policy. In the end, what matters in American democracy is not how many people want something. It’s how intensely the people who do want it want it, and how well organized they are. [emphases in original]

Now, some Republican elites really may want more pre-K funding.  But not enough of them and not strongly enough and that is (unfortunately) far more important than an opinion poll that tells us that a solid majority of Republican identifiers support it.

How teachers are undervalued– chart form

This is the bottom portion of a chart at Vox highlighting a new Brookings study which shows that the top 9 life-time earning college majors are all engineering.  Followed by Computer Science in #10.  I’m totally okay with that.  What I’m not okay with is those in Elementary Education earning less than those with an Associates degree.  Is that really how little our society values those who educate our children when they are building the fundamentals of literacy and math for a life-time of learning?!  Ugh.  I’m also going to speculate that since elementary education is the most female-heavy that this just might have something to do with it.  And, OMG are health and PE teaching degree earners overpaid in comparison (coaching stipends, I’m guessing).  While math teachers are busy grading homework they’ve got nothing to do (or coach for extra pay).  So not fair.


Something is missing here

I did not read this entire article on how Columbia University deals with rape because I honestly found it a little long and redundant, but when I skimmed to the end, I noticed that something was missing– the police!  So, I did a search and the word is not in there.  Either is “law enforcement.”  What?!  How do you write an entire many-thousand word article about sexual assault victims without even mentioning the police.  To put the whole onus on a university to solve this problem seems crazy to me.  I don’t want to diminish the gravity of the crimes or the suffering of the victims, but universities do not exist to adjudicate guilt and non-guilt in cases of sexual assault– that is for the criminal justice system.  And I think things go awry when we expect otherwise.

Quick hits

I don’t know if I’ve lowered my bar for quick hits inclusion or I’m just finding more good stuff, but I’ve had a bunch lately.  As long as y’all enjoy and there’s no complaints, I’ll keep at it:

1) Why is it so hard to just die at home?  Because financial incentives for many push otherwise.  We were lucky that my mom died at home, but only because we were able to afford extensive home care at the end.  Great read of one family’s sad tale.  Goes along great with Zeke Emmanuel’s terrific essay on why he wants to die at 75 (if you follow and read one link this weekend, this should be it).

2) Jim Hunt with a nice N&O Op-Ed with how we really need to treat teachers policy-wise in this state.  And on the topic of NC schools, how about this pretty sneaky way for Republicans to cut their budgets.

3) Loved this blog post on how the ideology and smell study went from marginal finding to media catnip.

4) Ever stuck in a corn maze?  Ken’s Korny Korn Maze is huge.  Average group takes 90 minutes to get out.  But not if you use this technique (we did).

5) Seth Masket with a nice “why not Joe Biden” post:

The answer is in some ways much simpler: Biden isn’t doing well in presidential polls because almost no one of consequence in the Democratic Party, other than Biden, is talking seriously about his presidential prospects…

It seems fair to say that the party isn’t seriously considering him for the presidency in 2016 because it’s already considered him twice before and, for any number of reasons, found him wanting.

6) Democracy ain’t so great for poor people.

7) Americans say they want bipartisanship, but do they really?  Of course not.

8) So many of Rebecca Schulan’s Slate columns about Higher Ed drive me crazy.  Nice to see I am not alone.

9) Why political scientists should predict things.

10) You are probably not interested in the social science on college course evaluations.  But if you are, this is quite the impressive and interesting piece of work.

11) The sub headline refers to the “surprising” fact that religion does not make you more moral.  Color me unsurprised.

12) Somehow I just came across this great Michael Pollan essay from 2003 comparing current corn-based agribusiness to the 1800’s alcohol-soaked America.

13) I am a fast reader.  But slow for a college professor.  According to this.

14) Enjoyed this post from a friend and NCSU bio-ethics professor about the woman imprisoned for providing the abortion pill to her daughter.

15) One could do whole blogs (and I’m sure people do) keeping up with the inanity from Fox news.  But I enjoy how this story also covers the inanity of a Colorado school board.

16) John Oliver on the Miss America Pageant’s bogus scholarships.  A must watch if you haven’t seen this yet.

Boys, girls, and grades

Really interesting piece in the Atlantic about how girls’ superior conscientiousness (or willpower, or self-discipline, or what have you) substantially accounts for their superior school performance to boys.  I was especially intrigued as all the stereotypical boy descriptions are just like my oldest (ADHD-diagnosed) son.

This begs a sensitive question: Are schools set up to favor the way girls learn and trip up boys?

Let’s start with kindergarten. Claire Cameron from the Center for the Advanced Study of Teaching and Learning at the University of Virginia has dedicated her career to studying kindergarten readiness in kids. She’s found that little ones who are destined to do well in a typical 21st century kindergarten class are those who manifest good self-regulation. This is a term that is bandied about a great deal these days by teachers and psychologists. It mostly refers to disciplined behaviors like raising one’s hand in class, waiting one’s turn, paying attention, listening to and following teachers’ instructions, and restraining oneself from blurting out answers. These skills are prerequisites for most academically oriented kindergarten classes in America—as well as basic prerequisites for success in life.

As it turns out, kindergarten-age girls have far better self-regulation than boys…

The researchers combined the results of boys’ and girls’ scores on the Head-Toes-Knees-Shoulders Task with parents’ and teachers’ ratings of these same kids’ capacity to pay attention, follow directions, finish schoolwork, and stay organized. The outcome was remarkable. They discovered that boys were a whole year behind girls in all areas of self-regulation. By the end of kindergarten, boys were just beginning to acquire the self-regulatory skills with which girls had started the year. [emphasis mine]

Just wow!  And it doesn’t stop there:

This self-discipline edge for girls carries into middle-school and beyond. In a 2006 landmark study, Martin Seligman and Angela Lee Duckworth found that middle-school girls edge out boys in overall self-discipline. This contributes greatly to their better grades across all subjects…

Arguably, boys’ less developed conscientiousness leaves them at a disadvantage in school settings where grades heavily weight good organizational skills alongside demonstrations of acquired knowledge…

These days, the whole school experience seems to play right into most girls’ strengths—and most boys’ weaknesses. Gone are the days when you could blow off a series of homework assignments throughout the semester but pull through with a respectable grade by cramming for and acing that all-important mid-term exam. Getting good grades today is far more about keeping up with and producing quality homework—not to mention handing it in on time.

And here is where I learn just how common David’s issues are.  I could have written this about him:

On countless occasions, I have attended school meetings for boy clients of mine who are in an ADHD red-zone. I have learned to request a grade print-out in advance. Not uncommonly, there is a checkered history of radically different grades: A, A, A, B, B, F, F, A. When F grades and a resultant zero points are given for late or missing assignments, a student’s C grade does not reflect his academic performance. Since boys tend to be less conscientious than girls—more apt to space out and leave a completed assignment at home, more likely to fail to turn the page and complete the questions on the back—a distinct fairness issue comes into play when a boy’s occasional lapse results in a low grade. Sadly though, it appears that the overwhelming trend among teachers is to assign zero points for late work. In one survey by Conni Campbell, associate dean of the School of Education at Point Loma Nazarene University, 84 percent of teachers did just that.

And what is the solution to get boys up to speed on conscientiousness?  I’ve yet to read it.  From what I can tell it just means working a heck of a lot harder with boys on various strategies to compensate for a lack of conscientiousness.

Back in my day, I was super conscientious (no more, just ask my co-authors and journal editors) and it was a huge benefit.  But I just always was that way.  What we need is more research on how to get there if you are not born that way.


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