Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Amateurs Often Outperform Professional "Experts"

When amateurs outperform professionals, there is something wrong with that profession. Two examples:

1. If ordinary people, with no medical training, could perform surgery in their kitchens with steak knives, and get results that were better than those of surgeons in hospital operating rooms, the whole medical profession would be discredited.

Yet it is common for ordinary parents, with no training in education, to homeschool their children and consistently produce better academic results than those of children educated by teachers with Master's degrees and in schools spending upwards of $10,000 a year per student-- which is to say, more than a million dollars to educate ten kids from K through 12.

Nevertheless, we continue to take seriously the pretensions of educators who fail to educate, but who put on airs of having "professional" expertise beyond the understanding of mere parents.


2. Central planners in the days of the Soviet Union had to set over 24 million prices. Nobody is capable of setting and changing 24 million prices in a way that will direct resources and output in an efficient manner.

For that, each of the 24 million prices would have to be weighed and set against each of the other 24 million prices. in order to provide incentives for resources to go where they were most in demand by producers and output to go where it was most in demand by consumers.

In a market economy, however, nobody has to take on such an impossible task. Each producer and each consumer need only be concerned with the relatively few prices relevant to their own decisions, with coordination of the economy being left to supply and demand.

In short, amateurs were able to outperform professionals in the economy because the amateurs did not take on tasks beyond the capability of any human being or any manageable group of human beings.

~Thomas Sowell "Amateurs Outdoing Professionals"

37 Comments:

At 8/20/2008 12:22 AM, Blogger LibFree said...

Can we count throwing darts at the New York Times Stock listing and outperforming mutual funds?

 
At 8/20/2008 12:47 AM, Blogger Ironman said...

libfree: That would be a trick if you could pull it off - the way the New York Times' stock has been tanking, it would be hard to believe that it could outperform many, if any, mutual funds! ;-) (Yes, I know what you really meant - I just couldn't resist!)

You are correct if you refer to a market cap-based index fund, whose value is determined by the collective decision of millions of investors. It's very rare to find a fund manager or individual investor who outperforms the major indices on a regular basis over their careers.

MP: Here's a secret from the world of medicine - a lot of modern surgical procedures are really written by engineers instead of doctors or surgeons, particularly for implants. The only thing that prevents say a mechanical engineer from writing the procedure for installing a spinal disk replacement that they may have designed in a patient is some pretty specific on-the-job training.

I should however note that surgeons do review these procedures - the final versions are most often collaborative products.

 
At 8/20/2008 1:33 AM, Anonymous Fred said...

Bloggers, amateurs at journalism, are outdoing "real" journalists because while journalists are expert at journalism they don't have wide experience or knowledge about the things they report.

On the other hand, bloggers, while not expert journalists, have in their ranks many other kinds of expertise. For example, it was a combination of blogger typographers, blogger veterans, and blogger computer experts who showed that the Dan Rather Bush National Guard memos were phony. Professional journalists failed completely at that task.

 
At 8/20/2008 5:45 AM, Anonymous JC said...

I happen to be all for home tuturing and yes we do have many scholars because of this, nonethe less judging by my own background education I believe I would be doing my kids more harm than good.

 
At 8/20/2008 5:52 AM, Anonymous d4 said...

Its also common for parents to home-school their children to believe the earth is only 5000 years old and that man walked and even rode dinosaurs, ie. "Origins in Genesis"

If you want to call that out-performing...

 
At 8/20/2008 8:46 AM, Anonymous qt said...

With all due respect, how can one compare the results of a 1:1 to a 1:30 teacher-student ratio? The basis for comparison is not equal.

Aren't we looking at a small minority of exceptional parents providing schooling tailored to the needs of the student? Aren't these families more likely to be higher income families that can afford to have one parent stay home to educate the children? One generally finds a strong correlation between student performance and the socio-economic background of the child's family.

I'll buy this argument if Mr. Sowell shows me the amateurs with their steak knives performing surgery in the kitchen outperforming the professionals.

The market is an aggregate of the decisions of millions of individuals and can certainly outperform a group of technocrats but it is not really an example of an amateur outperforming a professional.

 
At 8/20/2008 9:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Problem... Many public school teachers are university science, engineering, etc. flunkees. I've seen it a thousand times. Education as a major is not rigorous at all. Otherwise, those failing out of engineering school and the like would not sail right through it.

Also, the teacher's unions prevent firing incompetent teachers and kill any incentive for performance. Being a better teacher is not met with market rewards.

And, the low pay of teachers attracts two types of people: (1) those that really want to be teachers & (2) those whose skills are commensurate with this low pay.

None of these problems can be solved until the union is out of the way, which is not going to happen.

D4 makes a valid point with respect to creationist home schoolers. I live next to a couple. Sharp kids. Maybe, they'll grow out of it.

 
At 8/20/2008 10:00 AM, Blogger Andy said...

So schools spend $10k per student, but how much do homeschooling parents spend, particularly in lost income? It's got to be more like $40k/student. No wonder they get better results.

 
At 8/20/2008 10:15 AM, Anonymous QT said...

Anon. 9:00,

Thomas Sowell is pretty much preaching to the converted. He taps into the one profession that most of his readers think is mediocre, the teaching profession.

While I pretty much agree with what you say, I have to question the premise of Sowell's argument.

Isn't it a comparison between 2 totally disparate delivery systems ie. 1:1 vs. 1:30 and isn't it comparing the general public to a rather privileged minority? How does an amateur become equated with the market which is an aggregate of decisions by individuals?

There are many historical examples which prove that markets beat government technocrats hands down. Why does Sowell prefer an attention grabbing headline and an argument pitched to our atavisms rather than a logically reasoned argument?

Ironically, we are debating public education vs. home schooling, the red herring, rather than the acutal subject of the article, namely, the merits of market economics.

 
At 8/20/2008 11:40 AM, Anonymous QT said...

There appears to be a very common Little-House-On-the-Prairie perception of homeschooling. Do we really know what definition is being used unless we check the methodology used in the studies?

Do these studies include students who receive tutoring in addition to public education or students home schooled by a parent who is a professional educator or a third party educational provider? How does the family income compare with the average family income?

While studies indicate superior performance by home schooled students, we need to look more closely at what constitutes home schooling to determine whether other factors could be influencing performance and whether these have been adequately addressed. With any hotly debated subject, it would appear to be prudent to check for bias.

A little homework assignment?

 
At 8/20/2008 12:22 PM, Blogger juandos said...

"Its also common for parents to home-school their children to believe the earth is only 5000 years old and that man walked and even rode dinosaurs, ie. "Origins in Genesis"...

Hmmm, I don't remember anything about dinosaurs in Genesis...

Got something to back that up?

Public schools (maybe some private ones also) LIE to their students about global warming....

So which one is worse?

 
At 8/20/2008 12:33 PM, Blogger VH said...

My wife was home schooled--never went to public high school either. She is one of the brightest individuals I have ever met; she received high honors from university with degrees in Biology and Chemistry. Her parents were not rich, religious, or well-educated. I know that this is a sample of one but her educational experience has prompted me to think over the last couple of years that learning in an environment free of constant and common distractions--fighting, over-socializing in groups, etc--may be too much for some kids.

Certainly, a student teacher ratio of 1:1 may have a significant impact but Sowell's argument that educational bureaucrats do not know more about effectively teaching to children than a child's parents still is powerful.

 
At 8/20/2008 1:25 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hmmm, I don't remember anything about dinosaurs in Genesis...

Got something to back that up?


Juandos,

He may be referring to crap like this, but most likely meant the Answers in Genesis nuts.

 
At 8/20/2008 2:47 PM, Anonymous d4 said...

Hmmm, I don't remember anything about dinosaurs in Genesis...

Got something to back that up?


I actually meant these guys. I went through their 'museum' a year ago or so, and it was pretty hilarious, although probably very thrilling if you are a dino-loving 4-year-old.

 
At 8/20/2008 2:56 PM, Blogger OBloodyHell said...

> Its also common for parents to home-school their children to believe the earth is only 5000 years old and that man walked and even rode dinosaurs, ie. "Origins in Genesis"

If you want to call that out-performing...


d4, define "common". Also, identify the source of this statement -- the statistics used to justify it.

Or is your statement one of absolute ignorance based on arrogance and a complete lack of actual data, demonstrating the reason why homeschooled children consistently outperform people, like you, taught by the Public Youth Indoctrination System never to question why, never to ask how, never to doubt whatever line of crap they've been fed by the media?


Yes, there are some parents who argue for this position of which you refer. This does not mean that all, or even a large percentage of, home schoolers -- especially those who perform well -- are also thus encumbered.

And the real fact is, the homeschooled kids usually outperform the PYIS-trained kids in pretty much every field of knowledge.

They home-schooled kids consistently know more about geography, world political situations, science, math, reasoning, debate, literature, art, philosophy, history, economics, and a host of other areas of human endeavor than, say... you, probably...

*Idiot*.

.

 
At 8/20/2008 3:01 PM, Blogger OBloodyHell said...

> Do we really know what definition is being used unless we check the methodology used in the studies?

qt:
The question is valid, however, a quick answer clearly presents itself: Given the hostility of teachers' unions, public schools, and the like, towards homeschooling, along with their own plentiful funds, if the methodology used was hinky, don't you think that they'd be trumpeting this about the airwaves, rather than trying to squelch homeschooling by legal fiat?

Q.E.D., the methodology isn't hinky, it really is a much more functional educator than the PYIS.

 
At 8/20/2008 3:04 PM, Blogger OBloodyHell said...

P.S., notice how d4's response does NOT connect to homeschooling in any way, only to Creationist idiots.

He just assumes, geeeenyus that he is, that homeschooled==parents-are-creationists.

This, of course, is what passes for "reasoning" among those taught by a PYIS.

 
At 8/20/2008 3:43 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Obloody,

How can you make statements like this?

d4, define "common". Also, identify the source of this statement -- the statistics used to justify it.

And follow it with:

They home-schooled kids consistently know more about geography, world political situations, science, math, reasoning, debate, literature, art, philosophy, history, economics, and a host of other areas of human endeavor than, say... you, probably...

without any sources or statistics to justify it?

 
At 8/20/2008 4:16 PM, Anonymous QT said...

To return to econ, why do we choose a school to educate our children? Answer: we prefer to let someone else to do the job. Is it any different from the myriad of aspects of our lives like hiring a contractor to build an addition on the house, or taking the car to an auto shop.

I agree that the public education system has many schools that are failing kids ie. in Detroit, Washington DC, New Orleans. I agree that there are teachers who suck. There are also many excellent teachers and many excellent schools.

Given the comparison of this issue to the aggregate wisdom of the market, wouldn't we conclude that the aggregate chooses the public system. If we compare the numbers, the vast majority of parents choose an educational facility, public, private or charter over home schooling.

 
At 8/20/2008 5:21 PM, Anonymous QT said...

meant to say "aggregate chooses an educational institution"

Yes, I know it isn't a free market.

 
At 8/20/2008 7:59 PM, Blogger bobble said...

Professor Perry, aren't you a public school teacher?

 
At 8/20/2008 11:06 PM, Blogger juandos said...

Hey anon @ 1:25 PM, Jesus on a dino... Now that's pretty funny...

Personally though I know many people who read the bible daily and believe in it as life lessons to be learned, they've not dumped their belief in science...

 
At 8/20/2008 11:51 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

d4, there are many home schoolers who celebrate that creation museum stuff, but to me it is not any worse public schools teaching that the excesses of capitalism and lack of government involvement in the economy caused the great depression, calling the industrialists "robber barons," etc.

 
At 8/21/2008 6:06 AM, Anonymous d4 said...

Its also common for parents to home-school their children to believe the earth is only 5000 years old and that man walked and even rode dinosaurs, ie. "Origins in Genesis"

OBloodyHell said... [a bunch of stuff, culminating in:] "*Idiot*."

First off, I do not believe that home-schooling == creationists or that that's even the majority. My point was that there are a wide variety of home-schooler's out there, and not all of them are of this magical 'out-perform' standard.

"Common" as I used it meant essentially "Not uncommon". No, I don't have any stats to back up what I'm saying, although I've seen a dearth of home-schooling materials for sale on the topic and around curriculum's that are scientifically questionable at best. Certainly fine to have different view-points, but ultimately if you write "Jesus rode the T.Rex into Rome" on your SAT essay, it ain't gonna fly.

I think all types of school systems can produce excellent students, and that its really more driven by the student themselves as to how much they want to succeed, although having involved parents is obviously a huge help. But again, my point was that there are bad examples of every type of school, that are in some cases, IMHO, scary-bad with their teaching.

Finally, can we please have a civil debate? You really don't need to go immediately to personal attacks and assume things about my level of education, background, and intelligence off of a 1-paragraph comment. That's uncouth.

 
At 8/21/2008 8:06 AM, Anonymous QT said...

Creationism also makes it into public schools. 30% were taught about creationism with6% being taught that creationism was scientifically credible

This report also found that belief in creationism declines as the level of education rises.

 
At 8/21/2008 12:12 PM, Blogger Yorzhik said...

First; as a homeschooler who did a very poor job homeschooling, I can say that homeschooling really is superior to public schooling in every way. I paid for as many of the standardized tests as possible, both state and national, and despite my poor scheduling and record keeping, they always did above average on the tests. Now they are in college and doing well.

Second; don't equate science with evolution. Through science, evolution will be cast to the dustbin of history. And I for one cannot wait for that day because it will free up resources for science progress.

 
At 8/21/2008 3:08 PM, Anonymous QT said...

Between 45-47% of the population of the U.S. believes in intelligent design and a recent survey indicates that 57% of Americans surveyed believe in divine intervention even if all medical treatments are deemed futile.

The U.S. remains a very religious country.

Can't say I believe in any of it but I do believe in the invisible hand :)

 
At 8/21/2008 3:53 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

@ 1:1 vs. 1:30

The proportions make no difference. Studies have proven that the student:teacher ratio is unimportant vis-a-vis actual education. In the same vein, dollars spent have no correlation with education outcomes. None. The teachers' unions are nothing but self-perpetuating 'tards who top-load schools with administration staff who know nothing about actually, you know, educating children.

skh.pcola

 
At 8/21/2008 5:37 PM, Blogger bobble said...

anon.pcola:"The proportions make no difference. Studies have proven . . . dollars spent have no correlation . . . "

you make a lot of unsupported assertions there, pcola. frankly i don't believe any of them. care to back them up with links to credible research?

 
At 8/21/2008 9:39 PM, Anonymous QT said...

Anon. 3:53

The studies that I am aware of compare smaller vs. large classes not 1:1 vs. 1:30 ratios. A teacher cannot structure the class around the learning style and comprehension level of each student.

If one looks at health care, the optimum nurse to patient ratio is 1:4. A ratio of 1:7 or 1:8 actually endangers patients and adversely affects patient outcomes.

Your anger towards teachers and unions suggests a lack of objectivity which undercuts your argument. You may be right about teacher to student ratios but you have not provided any information to support this conjecture.

QED Without providing any evidence to back up your assertions, your argument remains unproven.

I am perfectly willing to consider whatever evidence you wish to present. Take a pill and park the anger.

 
At 8/22/2008 1:10 PM, Blogger juandos said...

Hey d4, thanks for that particular link...

"The state-of-the-art 70,000 square foot museum brings the pages of the Bible to life"...

Hmmm, that's kind of wild...

anon @ 3:53 PM says: "In the same vein, dollars spent have no correlation with education outcomes. None."...

Well if the following Washington Examiner article is factual, you seem to be correct: D.C. ranked third-highest in per-pupil public education spending compared with all U.S. states in 2006, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, though it has consistently ranked lowest on test scores...

 
At 8/22/2008 8:26 PM, Blogger OBloodyHell said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

 
At 8/22/2008 8:31 PM, Blogger OBloodyHell said...

> Aren't we looking at a small minority of exceptional parents providing schooling tailored to the needs of the student? Aren't these families more likely to be higher income families that can afford to have one parent stay home to educate the children? One generally finds a strong correlation between student performance and the socio-economic background of the child's family.

qt, I believe you are woefully wrong here and I challenge you to support your claim with reliable statistics.

Wealthy families are far more likely to send their kids to private schools. Homeschooling is more often done by mid-to-lower income families who don't trust modern public schools to do their job, often because, like me, they grasped how poorly the schools were doing the job 25+ years ago when the parents were in school, and don't think things have gotten any better in the interrim.

I would almost certainly either homeschool my kids (if I have any) or send them to private school. I would never inflict the modern Public Youth Indoctrination System on my (theoretical) children.

Anecdotally:
Tim Tebow, last year's Heisman winning quarterback was homeschooled (In 1996, legislation was passed in Florida allowing homeschooled students to compete in local high school sporting events. The law specifies that homeschooled students may participate on the team of the local school in the school district in which they live). His parent are missionaries -- hardly rich and affluent.

> How can you make statements like this?... (snip)
> ...without any sources or statistics to justify it?

Because I'm not the one making the initial assertion. I know the claim to be crap. Until you take the time to try and prove it, I'm not going to bother digging out counterweighting statistics.

You're the one making the claim. Put up or shut up, and stop trying to throw the burden of proof on those who disagree by acting like your assertions had sufficient merit to require any effort be expended to dispute them.

Otherwise:

I hear your mother is a $5 mexican prostitute.

A fact I'm sure you're going to deny.

But you prove it wrong, first, before I show you any evidence to support my claim.

Get my point? It's not for the rejector to prove it wrong, unless they choose to, unless and until the claimant takes the time and effort to make THEIR case.

With regards to the prostitute claim, YOU can call me an outright lying sack of fecal matter for making a claim which, I'm reasonably sure, we both presume to be false.

It is not for YOU to disprove it just to make me present my evidence. YOU can call me a liar (or just wrong, for a less obnoxious claim) without presenting proof to the contrary.

 
At 8/22/2008 8:55 PM, Blogger OBloodyHell said...

> To return to econ, why do we choose a school to educate our children? Answer: we prefer to let someone else to do the job. Is it any different from the myriad of aspects of our lives like hiring a contractor to build an addition on the house, or taking the car to an auto shop.

and
> Yes, I know it isn't a free market.

Uh, ya kinda throw that out there as an aside.

If my mechanic sucks, do I have to keep going to him, just because the gummint assigned him to me?

If my supermarket keeps selling me moldy bread, souring milk, and bad fruit, do I have to keep going to them simply because they are the closest supermarket?

"I know it isn't a free market."

That's not an aside, that's the argument against your question in a single sentence

The local school board sent a local teacher to China for a month to learn about teaching Chinese. One problem: The local school system does not offer a course in the Chinese Language, nor is it considering offering one.

Now, please explain: why should the local citizens (or the feds, whoever) be taxed to pay between $5k and $10k for a trip to China? Yeah, spread across the whole county population, it's pennies -- but it's not just one thing, it's hundreds -- thousands -- of things like this. And one member of the local school board copped an ATTITUDE when someone complained about this misuse of education funds. As though there was nothing wrong with it.

The whole system needs to be torn down and rebuilt from scratch. Teachers should be free-lance. They should arrange for their own rooms, pay for the rooms and books out of the fees they charge the parents. They can also form collectives, presumably with the goal of renting current school spaces as a group to form a school. The teachers' collective hires exactly as much admin as they agree they need, and arrange for as many services as they want.

The can set their own class sizes as well, and pay themselves out of whatever they have left over.

AS for the people and kids, anyone with a child k through 12 gets a voucher from the State for the amount currently spent per student providing schools, locally. Parents are free to supplement such monies as desired. Parents get to keep10% of the voucher money they don't spend.

Let the free market junk the teachers who can't teach, toss out the vast numbers of deadwood administrators, and pare the system down to a working, efficient mechanism that allows parents to select whatever is best for their kids.

"But some parents don't care!!"

Yeah, so?

How are their kids going to be DEFINITELY worse off than in the current system -- you know, the one which does not work at all?

And any parent -- every parent -- who actually DOES care WILL be able to get a good education for their kids... just by caring enough to find a good teacher.

"But what about special ed type kids?"

OK, yeah. A problem. So clearly, the state can and should supplement this for special ed kids by providing some standards for increasing the voucher depending on the disability.
Once again, the free market responds and the problem is resolved.

So the market segments -- some people decide that the old "Little Red Schoolhouse" system worked better than the modern Germanic System... and they re-implement gradeless classrooms. Others form small classes focusing on smart kids, or dumb kids, or sports kids... The education market fragments and becomes a much more robust, precise, and efficient system for educating children instead of indoctrinating them into bovine acceptance that life is nothing but boring drudgery, that learning is tedious and painful, that reading is dull and dreary.

In short, making sheeple out of men and women.

 
At 8/22/2008 9:12 PM, Blogger OBloodyHell said...

> My point was that there are a wide variety of home-schooler's out there, and not all of them are of this magical 'out-perform' standard.

"Common" as I used it meant essentially "Not uncommon". No, I don't have any stats to back up what I'm saying, although I've seen a dearth of home-schooling materials for sale on the topic and around curriculum's that are scientifically questionable at best. Certainly fine to have different view-points, but ultimately if you write "Jesus rode the T.Rex into Rome" on your SAT essay, it ain't gonna fly.


OK, so:
1) you made an assertion which was exactly as I suspected -- a presumption based on things you've heard and seen -- anecdotal evidence.
2) Follow this up with an admission that you actually don't have any basis for your claim.
3) Follow THAT with an assertion which certainly does NOT fit the available data I quote:
ultimately if you write "Jesus rode the T.Rex into Rome" on your SAT essay, it ain't gonna fly.
Precisely. Yet homeschoolers, on average, consistently outperform public schoolers on the SATs... so I am led to the conclusion that somehow they manage to answer those SAT questions with something other than "Jesus rode the T.Rex into Rome". Or does this self-evident fact not penetrate your mind?

According to the Wiki entry on home schooling:
Here is a chart of how they score on standardized tests


P.S. Q.T. -- there are some stats in the Wiki entry regarding who homeschools their children.

And in partial defense of d4's assertion, 33% cite religious reasons (which is only partial support, as that does not translate into "wants creationism" by any means)

 
At 8/22/2008 9:30 PM, Blogger OBloodyHell said...

Oh, and d4: THIS is also in the Wiki entry (emphasis mine):

By 2001, according to the Canadian based Fraser Institute, Muslim Americans were the fastest growing subgroup in the American homeschool movement, and were predicted to double in number every year for the following eight years after.

So you might have reason to be worried about "unscientific parents", but I don't think it's the Creationist lot you should be concerned with.

 
At 11/24/2008 6:48 AM, Blogger Mike said...

I'm going to have to dispute that claim about homeschooled children in the public schools.

There is as much anecdotal evidence that says the reverse, and anecdotal evidence is totally irrelevant anyway.

I want statistics.

I also want to point out how ridiculous the market analogy is. It is rare to see such a uniquely awful comparison. Usually great care goes into partisan statements. What I read here smacks of an argument I would have made at age 10, knowing the whole while how tenuous the connection was, and hoping that no one would be interested enough to point it out.

 

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