Appreciating the Beauty of dplyr

Hadley Wickham has once again1 made R ridiculously better. Not only is dplyr incredibly fast, but the new syntax allows for some really complex operations to be expressed in a ridiculously beautiful way. Consider a data set, course, with a student identifier, sid, a course identifier, courseno, a quarter, quarter, and a grade on a scale of 0 to 4, gpa. What if I wanted to know the number of a courses a student has failed over the entire year, as defined by having an overall grade of less than a 1.

Jason P. Becker

Freedom Should Be Reserved for the Wealthy

These quotes are absolutely striking, in that they give a clear glimpse into the ideological commitments of the Republican Party. From Sen. Blunt and Rep. Cole, we get the revelation that— for conservatives— the only “work” worth acknowledging is wage labor. To myself, and many others, someone who retires early to volunteer— or leaves a job to care for their children— is still working, they’re just outside the formal labor market.

Jason P. Becker

Dreamschooling

My Democracy Prep colleague Lindsay Malanga and I often say we should start an organization called the Coalition of Pretty Good Schools. We’d start with the following principles. Every child must have a safe, warm, disruption-free classroom as a non-negotiable, fundamental right. All children should be taught to read using phonics-based instruction. All children must master basic computational skills with automaticity before moving on to higher mathematics. Every child must be given a well-rounded education that includes science, civics, history, geography, music, the arts, and physical education.

Jason P. Becker

Garrahy Complex: Rules for Public Investment in Parking

James over at TransportPVD has a great post today talking about a Salt Lake City ordinance that makes property owners responsible for providing a bond that funds the landscaping and maintenance of vacant lots left after demolition. I love this as much as he does and would probably add several other provisions (like forfeiting any tax breaks on that property or any other property in the city and potentially forfeiture of the property itself if a demolition was approved based on site plans that are not adhered to within a given time frame).

Jason P. Becker

Did public schools build economies, or did economies build public schools?

We find that public schools offered practically zero return education on the margin, yet they did enjoy significant political and financial support from local political elites, if they taught in the “right” language of instruction. One thing that both progressives and libertarians agree upon are that social goals of education are woefully underappreciated and considered in the current school reform discussion. Both school choice and local, democratic control of schools are reactions to centralization resulting in “elites… [selecting] the ‘right’ language of instruction.

Jason P. Becker

Calculating Age with Precision in R

Update > Turns out the original code below was pretty messed up. All kinds of little errors I didn’t catch. I’ve updated it below. There are a lot of options to refactor this further that I’m currently considering. Sometimes it is really hard to know just how flexible something this big really should be. I think I am going to wait until I start developing tests to see where I land.

Jason P. Becker

A Different Angle on PISA

I wanted to call attention to these interesting PISA results. Turns out that student anxiety in the United States is lower than the OECD average and belief in ability is higher 1. I thought that all of the moves in education since the start of standard’s based reform were supposed to be generating tremendous anxiety and failing to produce students who had high sense of self-efficacy? It is also worth noting that students in the United States were more likely to skip out on school dand this had a higher than typical impact on student performance.

Jason P. Becker

A Good Long Read on Assessment and Accountability

Although it clocks in at 40+ pages, this is a worthwhile and relatively fast read for anyone in education policy on the future of assessment if we’re serious about college and career readiness. There is a ton to unpack, with a fair amount it agree with and a lot I am quite a bit less sure on. I think this paper is meant for national and state level policy-makers, and so my major quibble is I think this is much more valuable for a district-level audience.

Jason P. Becker

Bilingual Education at Providence Public Schools

“We are trying to work towards late-exit ELL programs so (students) can learn the concepts in (their) native language,” Lusi said. Administrative goals have recently shifted to a focus on proficiency in both languages because bilingual education is preferred, she added. But instituting district-wide bilingual education would require funding to hire teachers certified in both languages and to buy dual-language materials, she said. I am pretty sure this is new.

Jason P. Becker

DeBlasio: Weak on Implementation

De Blasio and his advisers are still figuring out how much rent to charge well-funded charter schools, his transition team told me. “It would depend on the resources of the charter school or charter network,” he told WNYC, in early October. “Some are clearly very, very well resourced and have incredible wealthy backers. Others don’t. So my simple point was that programs that can afford to pay rent should be paying rent.

Jason P. Becker

More evidence for "mere facts"

To recap, the first study discussed above established that children from disadvantaged backgrounds know less about a topic (i.e., birds) than their middle-class peers. Next, in study two, the researchers showed that differences in domain knowledge influenced children’s ability to understand words out of context, and to comprehend a story. Moreover, poor kids — who also had more limited knowledge — perform worse on these tasks than did their middle class peers.

Jason P. Becker

The four ways to really fix education

More schooling, reoriented calendar Wider range of higher education Cheaper four-year degrees Eliminate property tax-based public education This is an interesting list. I don’t agree with number four. There are several benefits to using property taxes not the least of which is their stability and lagged response during traditional economic downturns. However, there are many things we should do to reform our revenue system for education. I am keen on more taxes on “property”, using land value taxes that are levvied either statewide or regionally to address some of the inequities traditional, highly localized property taxes can lead to.

Jason P. Becker

It's Poverty Stupid... or is it?

If I had to point to the key fissure in the education policy and research community it would be around poverty. Some seem to view it as an inexorable obstacle, deeply believing that the key improvement strategy is to decrease inequity of inputs. Some seem to view it as an obstacle that can be overcome by systems functioning at peak efficacy, deeply believing the great challenge is achieving that efficacy sustainably at scale.

Jason P. Becker

Incomplete Evidence

I spent most of high school writing, practicing, and performing music. I played guitar in two separate bands, and was the lead vocalist in one of those bands, and played trumpet in various wind ensembles and the jazz band at school. When I wasn’t a part of the creation process myself, there is a pretty good chance I was listening to music. Back then, it seemed trivial to find a new artist or album to obsess over.

Jason P. Becker

Using R to Calculate Student Moblity

In a couple of previous posts, I outlined the importance of documenting business rules for common education statistics and described my take on how to best calculate student mobility. In this post, I will be sharing two versions of R function I wrote to implement this mobility calculation, reviewing their different structure and methods to reveal how I achieved an order of magnitude speed up between the two versions. 1 At the end of this post, I will propose several future routes for optimization that I believe should lead to the ability to handle millions of student records in seconds.

Jason P. Becker

A New Calculation for Student Mobility

How do we calculate student mobility? I am currently soliciting responses from other data professionals across the country. But when I needed to produce mobility numbers for some of my work a couple of months ago, I decided to develop a set of business rules without any exposure to how the federal government, states, or other existing systems define mobility. 1 I am fairly proud of my work on mobility.

Jason P. Becker

Documentation of Business Rules and Analysis

One of the most challenging aspects of being a data analyst is translating programmatic terms like “student mobility” into precise business rules. Almost any simple statistic involves a series of decisions that are often opaque to the ultimate users of that statistic. Documentation of business rules is a critical aspect of a data analysts job that, in my experience, is often regrettably overlooked. If you have ever tried to reproduce someone else’s analysis, asked different people for the same statistic, or tried to compare data from multiple years, you have probably encountered difficulties getting a consistent answer on standard statistics, e.

Jason P. Becker

Some Changes for Rhode Island State Aid to Education

In December 2009, the education department head, Professor Kenneth K. Wong, another graduate student and myself were part of a three-person team consulting the Rhode Island Department of Education (RIDE) on how to establish a new state funding formula. We worked with finance and legal staff at the department to develop the legislation for the 2010 session that would establish a state funding formula for the first time in 15 years.

Jason P. Becker

What can be done for Rhode Island Pensioners?

This post originally appeared on my old blog on January 2, 2013 but did not make the transition to this site due to error. I decided to repost it with a new date after recovering it from a cached version on the web. Rhode Island passed sweeping pension reform last fall, angering the major labor unions and progressives throughout the state. These reforms have significantly decreased both the short and long-run costs to the state, while decreasing the benefits of both current and future retirees.

Jason P. Becker

Thoughts on Teach for America

One of the most interesting discussions I had in class during graduate school was about how to interpret the body of evidence that existed about Teach for America. At the time, Kane, Rockoff and Staiger (KRS) had just published “What does certification tell us about teacher effectiveness? Evidence from New York City” in Economics of Education Review . KRS produced value-added estimates for teachers and analyzed whether their initial certification described any variance in teacher effectiveness at raising student achievement scores.

Jason P. Becker