Utah and USBE Elections #

I came a little late to the news, but thanks to a little birdie, I was pleased to hear a federal judge in Utah invalidated the convoluted process candidates for State Board of Education were pruned prior to the general election, on unclear, but clearly ideological grounds.

Despite being a beneficiary of the process, I agree it was broken and rigged. For goodness sakes, since 2008 the process has eliminated four or five incumbents (who must have at one time been deemed qualified), including a lawyer (in favor of a candidate described in a court brief as “a janitor who can’t spell and wants to limit enrollment in public schools by deporting aliens”), former Board vice chair, a university dean, and members who either previously or subsequently served on the State Board of Regents (an appointed position). Plaintiffs removed from the ballot this election cycle are to be reinstated.

Super bonus points to plaintiff lawyers who included this gem in their reply brief:

Indeed, using these criteria, the Committee or Governor can pick any knucklehead to run for a seat on the USBE — and they can select that candidate because he’s a knucklehead, in order to broaden the variety of individuals who serve on the board, to diversify board membership so as to be more inclusive of knuckleheaded people who may be under-represented as a class of candidates, or for any other reason.page 11

Some have opined that the process should be replaced with partisan elections, and UtahPolicy.com has a poll on the subject. I’ve written about this before, and strongly believe partisan elections would be detrimental to education governance for a handful of reasons:

  1. Party platforms don’t map well to education policy positions.
  2. Consequently, party labels don’t, even marginally, inform voters on candidate’s (likely) educational policy positions, except, perhaps as they relate to charter schools.
  3. Party leadership would stack the ballots, putting greater power in few hands.
  4. Consequently, candidates would be more extreme. (Republicans would win in most districts; Republican candidates picked by convention are almost certainly more conservative than the voting public at large). Single-issue (read: less-effective) candidates would be more viable.
  5. As an additional consequence, candidates are more likely to respond to their base than the public at large.
  6. Partisan selection includes automatic delegates who might not reside in the candidates’ district, and consequently skew results.
  7. Partisan labels would interfere with members working together. (Have you seen Congress? Or even the state legislature?)
  8. PACs would likely have greater influence in elections, and their influence would likely be less transparent than would occur in a nonpartisan election.
  9. No one I’ve met with on a partisan board thinks it’s a good idea (and I spoke with several during my term).
  10. What is rarely mentioned—I neglected to mention it in my piece several years ago—is that partisan elections for State Board of Education are almost certainly a violation of the Utah Constitution. But a little thing like constitutionality has never really stopped the Legislature.

Link Roundup #

Insider Trading #

From Kottke (back in June), a link to a new study [pdf], and a summary from the NY Times.

The professors are so confident in their findings of pervasive insider trading that they determined statistically that the odds of the trading “arising out of chance” were “about three in a trillion.” (It’s easier, in other words, to hit the lottery.)Andrew Ross Sorkin, “Study Asserts Startling Numbers of Insider Trading Rogues”, The New York Times, 16 June 2014

Interestingly, other comments I found more recently suggest that the problem is both better (there is more enforcement than reported) and worse (other insider behaviors beyond simple call options are likely) than described in the NY Times article. Levine’s article responds to the NYT piece, but is much more in depth, as it’s written by someone very clearly comfortable with options trading.

… I mean, it’s almost too perfect. Everything you’d predict, if you were maximally cynical, the researchers found. Here are the astounding highlights:

    There is abnormal options volume in the 30 days preceding a substantial minority of merger announcements.
  • “The proportion of cases with abnormal volumes is relatively higher for call options (26%) than for put options (15%).”
  • There’s more abnormal trading in advance of cash acquisitions than stock ones, since cash deals usually result in bigger price jumps for the target.
  • “There is significantly higher abnormal trading volume (both in average levels and frequencies) in OTM call options compared to at-the-money (ATM) and in-the-money (ITM) calls.” That is: Use of out-of-the-money call options, the most obvious way to insider trade, the Forbidden Option, increases not only absolutely but also compared with other call options in advance of a merger.
  • There “is strong evidence that informed traders may not only engage in OTM call transactions, but possibly also ITM put transactions.” That is: Some people have figured out ways to trade in options that are not the Forbidden Option.

Matt Levine, “There Might Be a Lot of Insider Trading”, BloombergView, 17 June 2014

Levine goes on to analyze what the findings mean, and opines on potential interpretations. Fascinating.

Quick updates #

I’ve had too many things going on to make posting a priority (sorry to any few remaining followers), but I’ve always tried to keep posts content-full.

In the past few months:

Support “Altered Perceptions” #

Rob is a friend of mine. Or, maybe more accurately, was a friend, because I’m awful at correspondence and keeping in touch with people. He’s a smart guy, and think highly of him. I remember sitting in the lounge at school, between classes, and just shooting the breeze with Rob. He was the only student in the cohort that was a published author. He’s easy to talk to, and an interesting person as well.

Rob and his friends have put together a fantasy anthology of alternate and deleted scenes from some well-known (and some new-to-me) fantasy authors, with the proceeds set to help Rob get out of some debt that’s been exacerbated by mental health issues, and to raise awareness and funding for mental health in general. The list of authors donating their work is impressive, and it’s worth supporting. I did.

I wish I understood mental illness better. It’s all too easy to marginalize those dealing with it. I’m glad of this project, because it makes it more real to me.

Rob and his family were among the many who helped us out when we were dealing with my son’s cancer. This time it’s his turn, so go donate, and get a great fantasy anthology at the same time.

Slate: America’s schools are segregating again #

In recognition of the anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education, Slate concluded schools are segregating again. Not really a surprise, given the ethnic maps I linked to previously—my anecdotal experience is consistent with the conclusion. My son, for example, attend a majority black school. Last year, he was the only white kid in his class. Our district is predominantly white; the school district across the street (on three sides) is predominantly white.

The average white student, for instance, attends a school that’s 73 percent white, 8 percent black, 12 percent Latino, and 4 percent Asian-American. By contrast, the average black student attends a school that’s 49 percent black, 17 percent Latino, 4 percent Asian-American, and 28 percent white. And the average Latino student attends a school that’s 57 percent Latino, 11 percent black, 25 percent white, and 5 percent Asian-American.Jamelle Bouie, Brown v. Board of Education 60th anniversary: America’s schools are segregating again., Slate, 15 May 2014

Interesting. Not sure about the methodology: In some of the states out West, schools are predominantly white because the population of the state/county/city is predominantly white, so this would tend to greatly skew the results of white participants. I did start to see some schools in Utah with large Hispanic/Latino populations when other schools in the same district had much lower percentages. I wonder whether blacks are more likely to congregate than other cultures.

The key point, however, is this:

School segregation doesn’t happen by accident; it flows inexorably from housing segregation. If most black Americans live near other blacks and in a level of neighborhood poverty unseen by the vast majority of white Americans, then in the same way, their children attend schools that are poorer and more segregated than anything experienced by their white peers.Ibid.

I have visited twenty or so public and private high schools this year. The differences between those in the richest and poorest neighborhood are near appalling. As previously linked, states can get involved by implementing policies that bring greater funding equity across districts. There is also a social gap in college financial aid. Surely there are solutions that can be implemented on the housing side as well.

Some of the difficulty is that race is still too strongly correlated with income. We haven’t yet overcome generational effects.

“Income has become a much stronger predictor of how well kids do in school,” Reardon says. “Race is about as good a predictor as it was 30 years ago. It’s more that income has gotten more important, not that race has gotten less important.”

Sarah Garland, “When Class Became More Important to a Childs Education Than Race”, The Atlantic, 28 August 2013

Effectiveness of State Education Funding Equalization #

From fivethirtyeight.com, a summary of some work by the National Bureau of Economic Research.

Title: “The Effect of School Finance Reforms on the Distribution of Spending, Academic Achievement, and Adult Outcomes”

Authors: C. Kirabo Jackson, Rucker Johnson, Claudia Persico

What they found: School finance-reform efforts have led to more equal funding for education, which has, in turn, helped students from poor families stay in school longer and earn more in adulthood.

Why it matters: Because most of the country funds public education through local property taxes, school districts in affluent areas have historically spent far more on a per-student basis than ones in lower-income areas. Various programs have aimed to address the issue, but it hasn’t been clear how successful those efforts have been in either reducing inequality or improving student outcomes. The authors use newly released spending data to conclude that the programs have indeed reduced inequality in funding, and that court-ordered reforms have been more effective than legislative ones. They also find that increases in spending lead to higher graduation rates among students from poor families, as well as higher earnings and reduced poverty when those students reach adulthood. They find no impact for students from nonpoor families.

Key quote: “These results provide compelling evidence that the [school finance reforms] of the 1970s through 2000s had important effects on the distribution of school spending and the subsequent socioeconomic well-being of affected students. Importantly, the results also speak to the broader question of whether money matters. … Many have questioned whether increased school spending can really help improve the educational and lifetime outcomes of children from disadvantaged backgrounds. The results in this paper demonstrate that it can.”Data they used: Historical Database on Individual Government Finances, the Local Education Agency School District Finance Survey and the Panel Study of Income Dynamics, among other sources

Ben Casselman, “In the Papers: A Look at the First Major Government-Sponsored Welfare Program”, fivethirtyeight.com, 12 May 2014.

Regular Expression Crossword Puzzle #

Via Kottke and @grimmelm, the Internet delivers a wonderful regex crossword.

Difficult, entertaining, and, as @grimmelm says, “It’s not as bad as it looks.”

I did it in pen. Successfully.

Still, through the middle third of it I kept wondering if it would be easier to write a back-tracking search tree program to solve it for me…

Yes, there is a single, unique solution.

TSA Confiscates “Dangerous” Stuffed Toy Accessory #

A TSA agent in St. Louis made air passengers everywhere rest easier by confiscating a “dangerous” two-inch prop gun that was accessorizing a stuffed animal. [via Lowering the Bar]

On Monday, the TSA issued a statement, saying “TSA officers are dedicated to keeping the nation’s transportation security systems safe and secure for the traveling public. Under longstanding aircraft security policy, and out of an abundance of caution, realistic replicas of firearms are prohibited in carry-on bags.”Susan Wyatt, “TSA agent confiscates sock monkey’s pistol”, KING 5 News, 8 December 2013

Right. Because a 1/5-scale toy the size of a couple of quarters is a “realistic replica.”

Muppets: Swedish Chef and Gordon Ramsey #

Hire Tom! Hire Tom!