There are two questions that really matter:

  1. Do school closures prevent community infections?
  2. Are the benefits of school closures greater than the costs?

As a rule, it’s best to go straight to the research, and in this case the research is mixed.

A paper from JAMA analyzing Spring school closures found that the current closure policies may be able to account for “128.7 fewer cases per 100 000 population over 26 days and 1.5 fewer deaths per 100,000 population over 16 days.” Further research from the Lancet estimates “that school closures alone would prevent only 2–4% of deaths.” Another editorial from JAMA does a better job than I could at breaking down the relevant risks given our most current research. To sum it up, though, most of the research is pointing towards the conclusion that school closures can moderately prevent further community infection. …

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Photo by Victor Garcia on Unsplash

I am a techno-optimist at heart. Although it is difficult, I believe that we can engineer our way out of a lot of problems. I believe that internet has democratized education. I believe that social media has helped demystify authorities and establishment media. I believe that, if we play our cards right, the proliferation of automation could lead to a world of abundance and equality.

Tech, science, and engineering have done a lot. It hasn’t been all perfect, but rather than slowing down, I believe our solution is to build and progress more.

This does not, however, mean that I will kiss the feet of the futurist-demigods of our tech culture. I will not subsist on soylent. I will NEVER let Elon Musk put a chip in my brain. I refuse to believe anyone’s “consciousness” will ever be uploaded to a computer. And, most of all, I will not fetishize going to Mars. …

Selection Bias Can Only Explain So Much

My favorite education book of the year is The Cult of Smart by Fredrik deBoer. It’s fantastic because it effectively attacks so many orthodoxies of education reform while still ultimately putting forward an egalitarian and deeply humane explanation of modern inequalities in educational outcome.

The idea at the heart of the book is that educational success — along with the financial security that closely follows educational outcomes — is mostly a function of natural characteristics that are out of the control of individuals. …

Using Cognitive Science to Improve K12 Education

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Photo by Uriel SC on Unsplash

I will be honest, I’ve always been a crammer. I got through high school and college by doing as little as I could to get through the classes that didn’t really matter. That mostly meant quickly memorizing everything I could in the couple days before a test. Sometimes that worked and sometimes it didn’t.

As a Neuroscience student I got very good at, for instance, quickly memorizing the anatomical structure of different parts of the brain, but this also led to some mistakes in classes that I wasn’t invested in. …

Every year, Americans spend more on lotteries than they do on music, movies, sporting events, and books combined. Despite all the odds, it’s seen by many as a viable form of savings.

As a math teacher, I don’t know how to process that. The expected return is basically zero yet so many of us are still tricked into funding it. The real problem, though, is that the majority of people who frequently participate in the lottery are from the lowest levels of education and socioeconomic status (tend to come from the bottom 20%).

It’s a tax on people who don’t understand probability, and, while, in some cases, that money may be going into public services that improve the lives of people who fund the lottery, it’s fairly easy to imagine how it can end up being a net negative. For instance, lotteries are often partially used to find education, but education investments don’t always have clear social returns and it doesn’t end up clearly improving the lives of lottery participants. …

Baumol Effect and the Cost of Good Teaching

Improving education by increasing teacher pay is somehow both the most overrated and underrated intervention in education policy. The trouble is that neither side of the debate really does it justice.

On one end, teachers unions fund massive amounts of research that frequently overstate how difficult teaching is as a way to basically shame people into paying teachers more. Along with that they often make cherrypicked arguments that underplay a lot of quality research that shows that the majority of student outcomes can’t be explained by teachers or schools. …

Why paying more for teachers in high-need subjects and high need schools is so important

Our education system is currently failing many students. We should continue working tirelessly to improve our system and turn it into a powerhouse for economic mobility, but our current conventional wisdom about improving the system is frequently at odds with the research.

However, oftentimes the most intuitive economic conclusions about good policy can frequently lead to solid results. Here I would like to talk about one of those ideas: differential teacher pay.

Teacher pay alone is one of the most contentious topics in education reform and I’ve written about it a few times before. To sum it up, teachers aren’t underpaid by the typical standards of how economists assess wage, however, if we want to retain and promote the best teachers across our most struggling districts, increasing teacher pay may still be worthwhile. …

The Opportunity Cost of Thought and Speech

With so many problems in the world it can be very hard to figure out where to spend your time in advocacy. I won’t pretend that I have any clear answers to that but I do want to push everyone on one important point →

We have limited time and limited mental resources for advocacy and political discourse. Every moment we spend worrying about one problem is a moment not spent worrying about other problems. So, there is a natural opportunity cost to the time we spend on political issues.

This may seem really obvious to most of us, and that’s okay. What matters in this situation is how we let this idea influence our decisions about what we read, what we write, and how we spend our money. And depending on how you think about this, it could mean a total restructuring of how you approach your social media. …

Different approaches to education reform can be taxonomized by their answer to three questions. When assessing the causes for student success…

What influence does personal choice play?

What influence does natural ability play?

What influence does society play?

Now, obviously there are other questions, but a good deal of the variability can be quickly broken down around these ones alone because they quickly get at what we ultimately care about: who excels, who struggles, and why?

So even though there is a considerable amount of nuance to each part, a simplification of the three quickly corresponds to both our political affiliation and what we think will fix our system. …

Apparently, NYC is going to die. Or at least that’s been the hotly debated story on twitter for the last week. The basic idea is that COVID has broken the back of New York by seriously challenging the key aspects of the city that make it great: business, culture, food, real estate, and college.

It’s an interesting article that is definitely worth reading, and, to be honest, I’m convinced by most of it. COVID will completely change the face of the city. It’s challenged an already useless city government and has shown the fragility of many of the City’s key bureaucratic institutions. On top of that, it has temporarily destroyed the cultural and culinary base of the city. …


Corey Keyser

Math Teacher writing on Philosophy and Policy and Science and Education and Other Things.

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