Black Teachers, White Students

July 13, 2019
Posted by Jay Livingston

Two years ago, in an episode of his podcast “Revisionist History,” Malcolm Gladwell took issue with the Supreme Court’s decision in Brown v. Topeka Board of Education. In that famous decision, the Court ruled that the problem of segregated schools was that they were inherently harmful to Black children. In Gladwell’s view, the real problem was that government-mandated segregation denied Black people school choice. But that was also true, in the aftermath of Brown, of government-mandated integration.

The result, says Gladwell, is that desegregation was not good for Black kids. And it certainly wasn’t good for Black teachers, at least not those in places like Topeka, Kansas.

Across the entire south, Black teachers just get fired left and right. It wasn't something done secretly; it was done right out in the open. There was something like 82,000 African-American teachers in the south before the Brown decision. Within a decade, as the decision was slowly implemented across the country, about half had been fired.

Gladwell has fallen out of favor with academic social scientists, who complain that in his desire to tell a good story, he’ll data use data from studies that are methodologically shoddy. (See my 2013 post here). But Owen Thompson, an economist at Williams College, heard Gladwell’s podcast and dug into the data. His recent NBER paper backs up Gladwell’s claims about Brown and teachers in the South.

Using newly assembled archival data from 781 southern school districts observed between 1964 and 1972, I estimate that a school district transitioning from fully segregated to fully integrated education, which approximates the experience of the modal southern district in this period, led to a 31.8% reduction in black teacher employment. ( Owen Thompson, “School Desegregation and Black Teacher Employment.”) [The paper is behind the NBER paywall. This is from the abstract..]

The dearth of Black teachers had a devastating effect on Black students, especially the best and the brightest. It’s not that the kids no longer had role models or that the teachers were prejudiced. The problem is that White teachers apparently are just not able to perceive talent in Black kids. Gladwell draws on the research of Jason Grissom and Christopher Redding about who gets into Gifted and Talented programs. In this audio clip from the podcast, Gladwell talks with Grissom.



Here is an edited down transcript of the clip. I’m leaving out the part about all the relevant variables in the equation. The point is that even after you control for all these variables (including, of course, test scores), race differences persist. So it’s not about the kids. It’s the teachers.

Grissom: In the overwhelming majority of school districts in the United States, the way that a kid ever gets to be identified as gifted is if someone in the school, usually a classroom teacher, has to look at that kid and say, “I think this kid might be gifted.” If I am a Black student and I have a Black classroom teacher, the probability that I’m assigned to giftedness in, in the next year looks very much like the probability for a White student. But if I am a Black student and I have a White classroom teacher, my probability of being identified as gifted is substantially lower.

Gladwell: How much lower?

Grissom: Okay, so for very high achieving Black students, the probability of being assigned to gifted services under a White teacher is about half the probability as an observably similar Black student taught by a Black teacher.

Less gifted and talented Black kids also suffered.

Gladwell: Having a Black teacher raises the test scores of Black students, it changes the way Black students behave, and it dramatically decreases the chances a Black male student will be suspended. A group of social scientists recently went over the records of 100,000 Black students in North Carolina over a 5 year period. They found that having even one Black teacher between the third and fifth grade reduced the chance of an African-American boy would later drop out of high school. By how much? By 39%. One Black teacher.

Again, my guess is that here too it’s not about role models. The problem is that people, teachers included, have difficulty “reading” someone of another race. Eyewitnesses make far more mistakes identifying someone of another race than someone of their own race. In the same way, White teachers may be less able to sense the needs of Black students and to know how to respond to them.

The Shipping News — Street Value

July 10, 2019
Posted by Jay Livingston

It’s not every day that you see a headline story about J.P. Morgan ship full of cocaine.



In fact, you probably didn’t see it yesterday. The above headline is from Business Insider . The Wall Street Journal  put story in the “Logistics Report,” basically the shipping news. 


The J.P. Morgan part of the headline is a bit misleading. It’s not the bank; it’s J.P. Morgan Asset Management. The ship belongs to Mediterranean Shipping Co., which apparently got their financing from Morgan. The ship is worth $90 million.

The Gayane was raided on June 17 by U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents who found about 20 tons of cocaine with a street value of $1.3 billion stashed in several containers. The ship had sailed from Freeport in the Bahamas and before that it called in Panama and Peru after starting its voyage in Chile. It was due to sail on to Europe after the U.S. stop.

That $1.3 billion sounds like a lot of money. It’s supposed to. That’s why the police and the press use street value. The actual cost to the drug suppliers is much less. Here’s the math. The 20 tons of coke is about 18,000 kg. So the $1.3 billion works out to $72,000 per kg. Divide that by 1000, and you get $72 per gram. In the US, a gram of coke goes for around $50 in most places, but maybe the $1.3 billion is based on European prices.

The coca leaf that went into that $72,000 kilo cost something more like $720. The cocaine itself cost less than $7000 a kilo at the ports of Peru or Colombia and perhaps only $2-3000 in the jungles. So the cost to replace the seized product is probably between one twentieth and one tenth of the street value. That’s still a lot of money — $65 million or more — but well under the $1.3 billion street value reported by law enforcement. (More on drug costs and prices here.)


There’s one other intriguing aspect to this news story. Most of the time, when a deal goes bad — say when someone does something that loses someone else their $90 million ship that now belongs to the Feds— there’s a lawsuit. But as Matt Levine at Bloomberg (here) points out, the folks whose 10,000 barrels of cocaine got seized aren’t likely to seek their day court.

JPMorgan might lose a $90 million ship, but the drug dealers have definitely lost $1.3 billion of cocaine! If I were the JPMorgan fund manager who owned this ship, I’d watch my back for a while; the Feds may be the least of their worries.

To repeat, the drug dealers lost far less than $1.3 billion. But whatever their losses, what can they do?  I would think that drug lords use violence in a rational way — to set an example so as deter people who might be in a position to harm them. Who would that be? Even if the financing deal were made by an identifiable person or a few people rather than by an asset management firm, why would the drug dealers want to deter other asset managers who might be thinking of making deals with ship companies?

If anybody should be worried, it’s the eight Serbian and Samoan crew members, now in custody, who loaded the cargo and who the drug biggies might suspect of, intentionally or inadvertently, tipping off the Feds.     

João Gilberto, 1931-2019

July 7, 2019
Posted by Jay Livingston

In the summer of 1964, you couldn’t turn on the radio without hearing “The Girl From Ipanema.” It was the hit single from the album Getz / Gilberto.


The Gilberto named on the album cover is João Gilberto, whose death was announced this week. He was one of the central figures in the creation of bossa nova, along with Antonio Carlos Jobim, Vinicius de Moraes (music and lyrics, respectively, for “The Girl From Ipanema”), and a few others.
But the Gilberto who this chart-topper made famous was his wife Astrid. DJ s would even refer to her as “The Girl From Ipanema.” João was left in the editing room. On the album, the song runs 5½ minutes. First João sings the original Portuguese lyric, then Astrud the English lyric, followed by Getz for a full chorus, Jobim on piano for half a chorus, with Astrud again singing the final 16 bars.

Radio stations wouldn’t play songs longer than three minutes, so the radio version cut João completely and all but eight bars of Getz’s solo.


Gilberto’s 1958 recording of “Chega de Saudade,” another Jobim-Vinicius composition, is one of the defining moments in bossa nova. It’s a wonderful song, or two songs really — a 32-bar section in C minor, followed by a complementary 36-bar section in C major.* (The minor-major change reflects the change in the lyrics from sad to hopeful.) The recording is just Gilberto accompanying himself on guitar. There’s only a bit of what he would do more of later in his career — singing slightly away from the beat, sometimes ahead, sometimes behind, so that you’re not sure if he’s ever going to get back in sync with the song.



--------
* Most sheet music versions, including lead sheets and guitar tabs, are in D.


*

Not That Innocent

June 14, 2019
Posted by Jay Livingston

Is Britney Spears more psychologically sophisticated and self-aware than David Brooks? Brooks begins his column today telling us that everything good in the world in the last three-quarters of a century is a result of America’s selfless, altruistic leadership. He then says

Building any community requires exercising power. America’s leaders made some terrible mistakes (Vietnam, Iraq). The nation never got to enjoy the self-righteous sense of innocence that the powerless and reclusive enjoy.

He doesn’t seem to realize that his opening paragraph, praising the US for its pure motives and virtuous actions, is a prime example of a self-righteous sense of innocence.

As a nation, America clings to its sense of innocence, and often with a self-righteousness that makes non-Americans cringe. Five years ago, I quoted Christopher Hitchens on this very topic.

The one that amuses me the most is the reference that you get about once a year to the American loss of innocence, as if this giant, enormous, powerful, slightly vulgar society ever had any innocence to lose, let alone could regain it and lose it again. I’ve heard the loss of innocence attributed to: the Spanish-American War, the assassination of President Kennedy, the assassination of President Kennedy’s brother, the war in Vietnam, the disclosures made at Watergate, through the discovery, which is in Robert Redford’s movie “Quiz Show,” that the quiz shows in the fifties were fixed – that was apparently a great American loss of innocence – and on the front page of the New York Times, when he died, in the obituary of Frank Sinatra, the idea that Frank Sinatra’s songs represented the loss of innocence for America.

This was in 2000, so add Iraq to the list and maybe our bi-monthly mass shootings. As I said in that post, if we keep losing our innocence so often, we never really lose it. We might be carelessly misplace it, but we find it again very quickly and forget that we’d ever lost it. We return to an idealized view of ourselves as a nation whose motives are 100% pure. As Randy Newman put it in his song “Political Science,
No one loves us
I don’t know why
We may not be perfect,
But Heaven knows we try.

With such a view of ourselves, each revelation of anything that departs from the ideal of innocence is a new shock. One immediate reaction is denial. And when the facts become undeniable (Vietnam, Iraq), we react with something like the disbelief and regret of the morning-after drunk who had blacked out.* “I really did that? Oh, gee, I’m sorry. Killing millions of indigenous people and taking their land? I really did that? Slavery? Atomic bombs? We really did that?” Why not face it: we’re not that innocent.

This belief in our own purity makes us suckers for an aggressive foreign policy. All you have to do is tell us that some country we don’t like did something bad to us. Since we are innocent and virtuous, their behavior must have been “unprovoked.” Therefore retaliation at any level is justified. So by coincidence, today, while Brooks was proclaiming US virtue on the op-ed page, the US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was claiming that Iran had launched “unprovoked attacks” on ships in the Gulf of Oman.

Paul Pillar at Lobelog (here) provides some context.

“Unprovoked”? The Trump administration reneged completely over a year ago on U.S. commitments under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the multilateral agreement that has restricted Iran’s nuclear program and closed all possible paths to a nuclear weapon. Since then the administration has waged economic warfare on Iran, despite Iran continuing for a whole year to observe its obligations under the JCPOA. The administration has piled sanction upon sanction in a relentless effort to cripple Iran’s economy, make life miserable for Iranians, and weaken Iran in every way possible. It has pressured countries around the world not to do any business with Iran. The administration has accompanied this campaign with unlimited hostility, threats of military attack, and saber-rattling that has included escalating military deployments in Iran’s backyard. If this isn’t provoking Iran, then the term provocation has lost all meaning.

Pompeo could have added act of unprovoked aggression by the Iranians — their decision to locate their country geographically amid dozens of US military bases.



Pompeo will get away with his version just as he will get away with his characterization of Saudi Arabia as “freedom-loving.” He will get away with it because even supposedly well-informed and sophisticated Americans like David Brooks continue to believe in our self-righteousness and innocence.

------------------------------------
* I think Philip Slater may have made this same analogy. If so, maybe his inspiration was the same as mine – Shelly Berman.