Friday, October 07, 2005

Freakonomics - Teachers and Sumo Wrestlers Freakonomics - Teachers and Sumo Wrestlers

What do schoolteachers and sumo wrestlers? Cheating. In particular, it appears that at least some teachers will cheat, if they can get away with it, and if cheating will benefit them. With the emphasis on accountability, schools are being forced into standardized testing to provide metrics. But often school districts reward, directly or indirectly, the teachers whose students do well on these standardized tests. The authors found that they could identify when some teachers changed test results from their kids through the use of coding test results and then looking for patterns. Their findings were then corroborated by seeing how these kids did the next year, and in a large number of cases, dropped back to where they would have been without the cheating. Also, to further verify this, some classes of cheating teachers were retested by 3rd party testers, as were some control classes. The control classes had comparable scores. The classes of the cheating teachers had scores comparable to their previous year's (much lower) scores.

Sumo wrestling is the national sport of Japan. And, if you even suggest to the Japanese that there is any dishonesty, they are mortally offended. But the authors showed that there is a significantly probability that it does happen.

They did this by comparing match results. It turns out that Sumo wrestlers compete in regular tournaments where they have 15 matches in each. If they win a majority of such, they move up, if not, they lose. So, if they are 7-7 going into the last match, they are on what the authors call the "cusp". Statistically, if they were to wrestle an 8-6 opponent in their 15th match, they should win about 48% of the time. But they win around 75-80% of the time, and then lost comparably the next time they wrestle that opponent. And, then things drop back to normal.


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