A few comments on Grade inflation

June 1, 2011 at 1:57 pm (Personal experiences, Price theory, Rochester)


One of the most unpleasant things I had to deal with while studying under the American system is grade inflation. I grew up studying for one of the most harshly curved exams in the world, in which usually less than 2% of students receive an A in each subject, and less than 7% receive a B (there is no +/-). The American system was obviously a drastic change for me. The first day I entered my American high school (for the senior year), I realized that I could receive an A with work that formerly only deserved an E. I was quite delighted for about twenty minutes before it dawned on me that the system is absolutely terrible, especially for students like me who only knew how to distinguish ourselves by our grades.

Steven Landsburg has an excellent article that says pretty much everything which needs to be said about grade inflation – why it exists and why it is horrible. Grades, he argues, are fundamentally a source of information to employers. With less distinction on the higher end of the curve, employers are not able to distinguish between the best and the slightly less great applicants. This makes it difficult to allocate work effectively in society and hence reduces productivity. He raises the example of a worker worth $40,000 and another worker worth $30,000 with a similar profile (let’s say they both get a 4.0 – the matter is more complicated but essentially the same once we introduce lower GPAs). Because the employer cannot distinguish between them, their average value drops from $35,000 to something like $32,000. While the lesser worker is quite content, the better worker ends up a lot worse.

As a student and as someone who has studied in an alternative system, there are two points I would like to add:

First, the focus is somewhat narrow. The biggest problem, I would argue, is probably not with the “demand” but with the “supply”. To be succinct, this is because students influence their own value as workers.  If employers cannot distinguish between the best and second-best students, the best students may choose to slack off (until they can barely, but still, get an A) and hence reduce their future productivity. Or, more optimistically, they may find other methods to set themselves apart besides studying for classes. These methods should also increase their future productivity (with the possible exception of socializing with professors), but are certainly not effectively as taking classes, or such methods of selection would have been adopted without grade inflation.*
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Weekly news: 2011-05-29

May 25, 2011 at 7:10 pm (Politics, Rochester, Weekly news)


1. In Tuesday’s special election in the NY 26th Congressional District, Democrat Kathy Hochul won against Republican Jane Corwin by a 47.1-42.6 margin in a district previously held by Republicans since 1970. The whining ensues. The “Tea Party” candidate Jack Davis, a protectionist who was previously registered as a Democrat and before then a Republican, received 9.2% of the vote.

Recent polls have shown Democrats regaining a slight lead for the generic congressional ballot in 2012. They will likely win the Senate vote by a larger percentage if the public opinion remains constant, since the states up for election favor Democrats. However it is likely that they will still lose several seats, since 2006 (the last time the seats were up for election) was an extremely favorable year for Democrats. The House races are basically a toss-up at this stage.

2. A case study of the problem with American journalism. Excerpts below:

The first Bush-Gore debate, according to Frank Bruni in his personal memoir:

“By any objective analysis, Bush was at best mediocre in the first debate, in Boston. … in all of [the debates], he was vague. A stutter sometimes crept into his voice. An eerie blankness occasionally spread across his features. He made a few ridiculous statements…”

The very same debate, according to Frank Bruni in the New York Times:

“It was not enough for Vice President Al Gore to venture a crisp pronunciation of Milosevic, as in Slobodan, the Yugoslav president who refuses to be pried from power. … Mr. Gore had to go a step further, volunteering the name of Mr. Milosevic’s challenger, Vojislav Kostunica. … as Mr. Gore loped effortlessly through the Balkans, barely able to suppress his self-satisfied grin, it became ever clearer that the point of all the thickets of consonants and proper nouns was not a geopolitical lesson. … it was more like oratorical intimidation…”

3. Breitbarts’ “TwitterHoax” – An illustrative guide to how the right-wing manufactures scandals. Excerpt:

“[She] said she was harassed for weeks online after she started following Weiner on Twitter and the congressman added her to the list of about 200 people he follows. Her harrasser “started posting about me, saying, ‘Oh, the congressman is following school girls,’ tweeting it over and over. It was very annoying,” [she] told the Daily News. When the crotch shot appeared online, she said the same Twitter user was the first to comment on it.

“Since I had dealt with this person and his cohorts before, I assumed that the tweet and the picture were their latest attempts at defaming the congressman and harassing his supporters,” she said. “Annoyed, I responded with something along the lines of ‘are you f***ing kidding me?’ and ‘I’ve never seen this. You people are sick,'” she said.”

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