A Smart Incentive or Obesity Persecution?

French diet guru Pierre Dukan is urging his government to give extra marks in school for a healthy BMI. The Telegraph reports:

"Obesity is a real public health problem that is rarely – if at all – taken into account by politicians," Mr Dukan told newspaper Le Parisien ahead of the book's launch.

Mr Dukan said his education plan would be "a good way to sensitise teenagers to the need for a balanced diet."

He denied it would punish overweight children, saying: "There is nothing wrong with educating children about nutrition. This will not change anything for those who do not need to lose weight. For the others, it will motivate them."

Horizontal vs. Vertical: An International Comparison of Teaching Methods

A new study released by NBER from authors Yann Algan, Pierre Cahuc and Andrei Shleifer takes a look at how teaching practices affect social capital. It's long and detailed, so we’ll only give you the highlights: in a nutshell, there are major differences between societies that teach vertically (like a teacher lecturing) and societies that teach horizontally (with students working together in groups.)

And because everyone loves international comparisons, the difference between horizontal and vertical countries breaks down as follows:

Students work in groups more in Nordic countries (Denmark, Norway, Sweden) and Anglo-Saxon countries (Australia, United States and to a lesser extent Great Britain). This teaching practice is less common in East European countries and the Mediterranean (Greece, Cyprus, Portugal and, to a lesser extent, Italy). In contrast, in East European and Mediterranean countries, teachers spend more timing lecturing.

Incentivizing the School Commute

We've written about bribing kids to get better grades. But what about bribing them to walk or ride their bike to school?

A new working paper examines a program in Boulder, Colorado that attempted to incentivize kids to bike or walk to school over a span of several years. The program began with a $10 cash prize for the first two years, but then switched over to a $10 bike store coupon thereafter. One lucky student who rode and walked to school every day during a "prize period" won the coupon.

Even considering the small, non-cash winnings, biking and walking to school increased 16 percent during the prize period. Here's the abstract:

The Vanishing Walk to School

Since the late 1960s, the share of U.S. kids and teens who are overweight has more than tripled. Why? I personally find Ronald McDonald kind of sinister, but it’s possible that Happy Meals might not deserve all the blame. In fact, Noreen McDonald—no relation to Ronald—of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill has analyzed a trend that might be contributing to the alarming rise in childhood obesity. Kids today aren’t walking or biking to school like they used to.

In 1969, the National Household Travel Survey found that roughly 41% of school-age children/teens got to school by “active travel” (i.e. walking and biking, though mostly walking, which then and now is more than 10 times more prevalent than biking).

In 2001 the walk/bike share was down to roughly 13%, a pretty spectacular drop. For elementary school children the change was even more stark. Today, even students who live within one mile of school have a less than 50% chance of walking; about 86% of similarly situated students walked in 1969.

Study Shows School Uniforms Improve Attendance, But Not Grades

The school uniform debate isn’t exactly raging these days, but there's still data to be gathered and examined as to how slacks and blazers affect school kids. According to a new study by researchers at the University of Houston, school uniforms seem to be decently effective at improving student attendance and teacher retention, but have no real impact on improving student achievement. For their data, researchers looked at the effects school uniforms had on a large urban school district in the Southwest United States.
Here’s the abstract:

From the Comments: A Market for Skipping Class

We got tons of responses to our Bleg last week on how professors should incentivize classroom attendance. Thank you everyone for your suggestions, a few concerns kept coming up in the comments:

  • Is the student a consumer?
  • Does attending class equate learning?
  • Are students a fair market to judge professors?
  • Do bonus/penalty systems work?

Most readers encouraged making the class interesting enough so that the professor is the sole incentive for students to show up. Others suggested an attendance incentive -- ranging from points for showing up, to test questions handed out at the beginning of class -- or a policy that puts students' grades at risk for not showing up.

Our Daily Bleg: How Should a Professor Incentivize Classroom Attendance?

Art Wright, a professor*, writes in to say:

I have this problem: I am course-planning for the fall term right now, and I'm trying to figure out the best way to develop an attendance policy. Many professors deduct points or letter grades for a certain number of absences. In contrast, I had someone recommend that I give points if students come to most or all of the class meetings. So I'm left wondering: What is the best way to incentivize class attendance for my students? What, in your opinion, will get them to attend most – if not all — of the class meetings?

What advice do you have for Art?

If you're a professor, let us know what you've tried that has worked or failed. If you're a student or used to be one (I assume that means everyone here), what did it take to get you to show up regularly?

*By the way, Art is a visiting professor of New Testament at the Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond. Am wondering how readers might answer (or engage with) his question differently if I'd introduced him as such rather than simply as a "professor." Of all the assumptions we make and biases we carry, it strikes me that religion encourages some of the strongest ones.

Clearing Out the "Rubber Rooms"

New York City Dept. of Education has been savaged over reports that it stows bad teachers in 'rubber rooms' rather than simply firing them. A new report says that many of those teachers are being returned to the classroom after having paid a fine.

Memorizing the Digits of Pi

Pi is an irrational number. Which means that as a decimal, it goes on forever. What's the best way to memorize this infinite chain of numbers? How about music? Or poetry?