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The Future of Standardized Testing

The pandemic has forced people to accept a lot of changes, but Americans aren't too sure doing a makeover of standardized testing is one of them. In fact, Americans are divided on the effectiveness of ... Read Now >

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Perri Peltz

Perri Peltz is a distinguished television news journalist and public health advocate. Perri currently hosts, “Dr. Radio Reports”, a one hour weekly program about public health issues for the Sirius-XM Network.

Perri Peltz

Perri Peltz

Prior to that, she served as an anchor and reporter for WNBC-TV and NBC News where she focused on issues relating to poverty and health. Perri first joined WNBC in 1987, serving as a reporter, then as a co-anchor, of the weekend editions of “Today in New York” and the evening newscasts. She went on to serve as a contributor for NBC’s “Dateline” and as one of the first anchors at MSNBC.

A news correspondent for ABC’s “20/20” from 1998-2000, Perri won numerous awards including several for her reporting on the misdiagnosis of melanoma.  She also worked at CNN as a reporter and anchored the award-winning show “CNN.com.” While at CNN, she reported a story about a chess team from a public school in the South Bronx that became national chess champions. Inspired by their story, Perri produced the feature film, The Knights of the South Bronx, starring Ted Danson, based on their improbable accomplishment.

Both in and outside journalism, Perri has pursued her passion for public health and medicine.  Working at the Robin Hood Foundation, she developed volunteer programs to assist organizations in their fight against poverty. Her contributions to public health advocacy were honored by the Mount Sinai Adolescent Health Center, and she continues to serve on the boards of the Medicare Rights Center and Singlestop USA.

Perri holds a Master’s Degree in Public Health from Columbia University where she is presently a Doctoral Candidate. Her most recent project, a documentary about breast cancer and disparities in care, is scheduled to air on HBO in 2011.  A life-long New Yorker, Perri resides in New York City with her husband and three sons.

10/27: Cross-Cultural Research

There has been a growing interest among our U.S. clients to compare the opinions and perceptions of Americans to residents in other countries.   This prompted me to recount some methodological issues discussed at a workshop I attended last spring in Switzerland.

mcculloch-caricature-460The Workshop on Comparative Survey Design and Implementation (CSDI) was a small, international conference of survey methodologists who share a strong interest in cross-cultural, multi-national, and multi-regional research.  Gathering at the University of Lausanne, the attendees were as diverse as the populations we study.  Yet as we discussed the current literature and measurement issues of our global research, the cultural differences blurred while we convened to answer the same question:  What are the best methods, tools, strategies, and protocols that help maximize comparability across countries, languages, and cultures?

Like nearly all fields, survey research certainly has its fair share of challenges…only to be exacerbated when conducted globally since much can be “lost in translation.”  One presenter reminded us of the Chevy Nova story:  a lovely car of the 60’s and 70’s that, reportedly, lacked sales in Spanish-speaking countries.  Well, ‘no va’ in Spanish translates to ‘no go’ – not exactly a good marketing campaign for a car.  And then, there was NASA’s $125 million orbiter that crashed into Mars when one engineering team used metric units while another used English units to estimate the distance from Earth.

No, we’re not launching rockets, but survey methodologists struggle with similar issues in international research.  How do we design a question that precisely translates into multiple languages while adhering to various social norms?  For example, does the term “strongly agree” elicit the same interpretation and emotion for the Chinese as it does to Americans?  Well, research shows it doesn’t.  How do we construct a representative sample when the accessibility, availability, and cultural expectations vary drastically across regions?  A telephone survey in the United States is quite easy but definitely not as straightforward in many African…or even European countries.  Given the mode of data collection affects survey data, how do we ensure that everything is comparable?  And, how do we conduct sound research within reasonable costs and timeframes?

During the three day workshop, we discussed ways to test equivalence across multi-national survey instruments.  In other words, methods to ensure that questions and response options, once translated, are understood and interpreted in the same way by all global survey respondents.   Since quality control is challenged by the de-centralized nature of global data collection, we investigated innovative ways to implement quality assurance steps through interviewer management and monitoring, as well as strategic review of respondent data.  Workshop participants also sought to better understand differential non-response across countries – that is, why survey participation and response rates may be higher in one country than in another and what can be done to increase cooperation without compromising data.  We certainly didn’t solve all of the cross-cultural methodological challenges but strides were made…as were global connections and friendships.

Related Link:
https://www.csdiworkshop.org/

10/25: The Youth Vote 2010

Their passion is still evident.  In Marist’s Political Communication and Politics course which I co-teach, a small group of students and I recently discussed Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign.  While addressing Obama’s use of new media, at least half of the students mentioned that they either contributed financially to Obama’s campaign or were on his mailing list.  Plus, one of our students did not hesitate to share how she was a foot soldier in Obama’s grassroots army.  But, can lightning strike twice?  Can that exuberance carry over into this year’s midterm elections?

azzoli-caricature-445According to the Pew Research Center’s 2008 post-election analysis, younger voters backed the Democratic Party in the 2004, 2006, and 2008 elections.  66% of voters under age 30 supported Obama in 2008, according to the exit polls.  The result was the largest age gap among voters since 1972.

Now, in a midterm election year when Democrats and Republicans are looking for any competitive edge and with the White House trying to reignite that spark, will it work?  The clock is ticking and there are few signs that the youth is in a voting mood.  According to the latest national McClatchy-Marist Poll, just 11% of registered voters under the age of 30 are very enthusiastic about voting in November while 48% of voters 60 an older have the same level of enthusiasm.  Plus, the nation’s youngest voters have been disappointed with the president.  In Marist’s September 22nd survey, 59% said the president was not meeting their expectations.

So, what are candidates, and the president, to do?  As Heather Smith, President of Rock the Vote, points out in a recent U.S. News and World Report article, all hope is not lost.  Campaigns just need to get moving and talk the talk young America wants to hear – focus on issues closest to them, issues like the economy.

10/22: Countdown to Election Day in NY

By John Sparks

With less than two weeks until Election Day, will the Republicans take control of the New York State Senate?  Can we expect any surprises in New York, and what will turnout be like?  The Marist Poll’s John Sparks speaks with Political Analyst Jay DeDapper about this and more.

Jay DeDapper

Jay DeDapper

John Sparks
Jay, Election Day is approaching. The last time we spoke about the New York Governor’s race, you told me it’s Andrew Cuomo’s to lose.  Now there’s been this debate, just curious, have things changed, or is the race tightening up any?

Jay DeDapper
If anything, it’s changed in Andrew Cuomo’s favor.  Carl Paladino, the Republican candidate, has stuck his foot in his mouth so many times that he’s run out of mouth space. He has gotten into so much trouble with so many comments and so many things he said and done that even in this Republican year, this very Republican year, this race… I don’t think you can even say, “It’s Andrew Cuomo’s to lose anymore.”  I don’t…  there’s really no conceivable way short of some unbelievable disaster on Andrew Cuomo’s part that he will not win this race.

John Sparks
You know, Jay, Andrew Cuomo isn’t the only one who has a stake in the governor’s election.  Control of the Senate is also at stake. I believe Republicans need to pick up two seats in the Senate to regain control of the majority if Cuomo is elected and only one if a Republican is elected governor.  Do you see a change in the control of the New York Senate?

Jay DeDapper
Well, the New York State Senate has been controlled by Republicans, had been controlled by Republicans, basically from the beginning of the century, the last century, the 20th Century, until two years ago.  So, there’s a lot of reason to believe that Democrats’ hold on it is tenuous.  Add to that the fact that the Democrats basically came into office taking over the state Senate for the first time and proceeded to commit fratricide by not being able to decide on a majority leader, having a war over the majority leader, when it’s finally appointing a different majority leader than the one who they thought they were going to have and then failing to accomplish much of anything.  It seems very unlikely at this point the Democrats will be able to retain control of the state Senate. That probably doesn’t mean anything at all for the way the government works because let’s face it, government in Albany doesn’t work no matter who’s in charge, and it’s going to be a tall task for Andrew Cuomo to change what three governors before him have all said they would change and failed to do.  What is at stake, though, is that the state Senate controls to some degree redistricting for congressional seats.  New York has only one Republican congressperson left. If the state Senate is controlled by Republicans, they will be able to redraw the congressional lines because New York is probably going to lose some congressional seats because of population decline, vis-à-vis other parts of the country. It looks like if Republicans were to regain control of the state Senate, which seems fairly likely, they will be able to redraw those lines to the benefit of Republicans who will likely be able to gain a couple of congressional seats and tilt the balance a little bit more towards them from a huge, huge underdog status they now face.

John Sparks
And, I believe Malcolm Smith was quoted as saying that if the Democrats retain a majority, that he would see that they would gerrymander those districts so that Republicans will be in oblivion in New York for the next 20 years.

Jay DeDapper
Yeah, I mean if the Democrats can regain or excuse me, can control the state Senate, can hold onto control, there’s no reason to believe that they would not be able to draw the districts in such a way that there would be no Republican, safe Republican congressional seats. That basically has to do with political affiliation in this state. There are very few Republicans compared to Democrats and independents. It’s five to three to one. And, so finding a Republican seat, even upstate, requires some very special work with the pen. The Republicans have been able to do that. Democrats won’t need a whole lot of effort to draw a Republican district out of existence.

John Sparks
Do you still feel that New York voters are rather lukewarm about these upcoming races.  Say like in the comptroller’s race?

Jay DeDapper
Yeah, the comptroller’s race is an interesting one because there hasn’t been any significant polling on it. It is the second most powerful seat or the attorney general. Depending on how you look at it, the second or third most powerful statewide elected official, and it can be a very important role, especially if the comptroller is of the opposite party or is in a war with the governor. The comptroller, he or she, can be a real thorn in the side of the governor, and sometimes maybe that’s a good thing.  This race has not gotten very much attention. It has a name on the Republican line that people are going to recognize because John Faso ran for governor before, and it’s got a name on the Democratic side of a guy who’s been comptroller for the last few years but hasn’t made a whole lot of noise.  He… I’m sure he thinks he has, but it’s tough to get through the — to clear the chatter when David Paterson is your meltdown governor, and Andrew Cuomo is your attorney general hard charging on all the banks and consumer frauds and all that. I think that the DiNapoli race, the comptroller race could be a surprise. That could be where a fairly low turnout, the fairly low interest among Democrats plays for the benefit of much more excited Republicans.

John Sparks
Do you think there will be a low turnout?

Jay DeDapper
You know, I hate predicting turnout.  You know we’ve worked together a long time and seen a lot of elections, and turnout predictions almost invariably proved to be untrue. I don’t think turnout in a year where even though we have two Senate seats up, which is a historical anomaly, we’ve got a big governor’s race with a big name, and we’ve got the control of the Senate and Congress in Washington at stake, I don’t get the sense from the people in New York, from talking to people, from overhearing conversations, from seeing the buzz, I don’t get the sense that this is an energized political state right now. So, I would guess if I had to be a betting person and guess, I would put my chips down on not a very large turnout.

John Sparks
We’ve seen polls, and we hear that voters are angry, they’re ready to turn everyone out. They’re really unhappy.  I talked to one of our former colleagues, Gabe Pressman, earlier this morning.  He has been in Utica, and he said that was the sentiment in Utica. And, yet, despite all this that we hear about people not being satisfied, it does not seem like that they’re going to take the time or the energy to go to the polls to make a change.

Jay DeDapper
I mean, I don’t … when I say “low turnout,” I don’t mean that it’s going to be like primary low turnout, like in primaries where 4% or 6% of the people turn out. I just don’t think this is going to be anywhere near obviously a presidential year, and I kind of doubt that in New York it’s going to be as big as 2006, which was a very large off-year election in terms of turnout. I think what Gabe found in Utica is probably right.  Upstate, as you know, Upstate New York has been economically depressed and down at the heels for the most part, not every city, but for the most part for decades. I don’t think you could go up there even in best of times and find people that are particularly happy with government, whether it be in Albany or in Washington, and I think that those folks — I think they are motivated to vote to some degree, although no more or less motivated than they are in any other year when they’re particularly upset.  I do think that it’s worth remembering that Upstate New York is an increasingly small part of the electorate of New York State.  You only have to win New York City and either Long Island or Westchester County, and you can’t be beat.  You just can’t be beat in this state.  There’s just not enough people upstate to make a difference, and I’m not sure that activated, energized, mobilized feeling is as strong in the suburbs here or in the city.  Part of that has to do with the economy.  New York’s economy has weathered this recession better than almost any major city other than Pittsburgh and a couple of bright spots, and the suburbs, while being hit somewhat hard, it’s nothing like Arizona or California or Florida or Nevada or many of these other places where real estate has just sucked the life out of people in the economy. It hasn’t happened here and there may be anger, but it’s not the visceral anger that you see out West and in the South.

John Sparks
I’d like to take a quick look at some other races. Andrew Cuomo of course will be leaving the attorney general’s position one way one or another.  Any contest in the race for attorney general?

Jay DeDapper
It’s possible.  Eric Schneiderman has certainly won over Democrats.  He’s fairly popular among the Democratic clubs and the folks that can get the vote out if it’s a lowish turnout.  He is popular in the suburbs.  He’s a Manhattan guy, but he’s popular enough in the suburbs, and his Republican opponent doesn’t have enough of a name or, I think, a widespread name recognition and so far not enough money to cut through the clutter.  I think that there’s always a chance that after you get past Andrew Cuomo and maybe Chuck Schumer on the ticket, I think there’s always a chance you’re going to see ticket splitters and people saying, “Screw it — throw the bums out,” and voting for Republicans. I wouldn’t think it’s going to happen in the attorney general race, but it’s always a chance.

John Sparks
Glad you mentioned Schumer. I was about to ask you, the president’s popularity has been on quite a slide. Will that translate into a problem for Schumer or Kirsten Gillibrand?

Jay DeDapper
Both Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand have anemic, and that’s putting it kindly, anemic Republican opposition.  I think this is a year that if Republicans in New York State had gotten their act together and put up a really strong candidate, especially against Kirsten Gillibrand, they might have a seat in the Northeast to win.  Chuck Schumer, that’s a harder nut to crack. Schumer’s got a lot of money. He’s got a lot of popularity.  He’s a campaigner.  As you know, he works harder than anybody you’ve ever seen campaigning and governing and being on the job. He will be a tough person to beat even when Republicans manage to put up a Grade A candidate. This year they have not.  Both of those seats are very safely Democratic.

John Sparks
You know I mentioned a minute ago about the possibility of gerrymandering and redrawing congressional districts. I’m just curious about the congressional seats in New York at this time.  Any that might change hands?

Jay DeDapper
Oh yeah. I mean, two years ago when Democrats almost swept, they almost took every seat from Republicans, and this would’ve been an entirely Democratic state as represented in Congress, That was the high water mark.  Maybe people didn’t recognize that at the time that that was the high water mark.  This year there are numerous seats that were — that are already kind of 50/50 seats. In other words, half of the people are Democratic, half are Republicans, or better put a third are Democrats, about a third are Republicans, about a third are independents.  There are actually a number of districts that way throughout the state which have elected only in the last two or four years, only in the last two cycles Democrats for the first time in many cases in decades. I think many of those seats are vulnerable. John Hall in the Hudson Valley I think is vulnerable. That’s a seat that was Republican historically.  There’s a seat outside of Albany, historically forever a Republican seat.  Since the Civil War, it was a Republican seat until a couple of terms ago. I think that’s at risk.  Tim Bishop out of the end of Long Island, Suffolk County, probably not in a huge amount of trouble, but facing an extremely wealthy self-financed candidate, and if voters in Suffolk County are angry enough, Tim Bishop could be another victim.  I think New York wakes up the day after the election with at least a couple of more Republican members of the House.

John Sparks
We’re right on top of it.  Do you see anything taking place between now and Election Day?  Politics is dynamic.  Any surprises? Anything you’ve heard of that might change your opinion about what we talked about today?

Jay DeDapper
Nothing that you can see, but that’s the nature and the excitement of politics is that you never know what’s going to happen in the final two weeks of the campaign. Typically, if it’s going to be something that another campaign, an opposing campaign knows about, you actually don’t save it till the final weekend. You start to roll it out about now because it takes a couple of weeks to take hold and to have its effect. We saw that with Chuck Schumer and Al D’Amato when Al D’Amato back in 1992 — 1998, excuse me, called Schumer a putzhead on the radio. That took a few days, about four/five days for Schumer to kind of traction on it, to work it up, that was two weeks out from the election and that was the end of D’Amato.  So, if there’s a surprise out there, if there’s somebody that’s going to screw up, this is the time they’re going to have to do it.  You get too close to Election Day and those kinds of things don’t generally happen and they don’t generally work.  I don’t see anything on the horizon, but who knows?  That’s the fun of politics.

10/21: All About (Election) Eve

By Dr. Lee M. Miringoff

As Margo Channing (aka Bette Davis) in the 1950 award winning All About Eve, snarled, “Fasten your Seat Belts.  It’s going to be a bumpy night.”  The Democrats may not be into classics but, in this era of change, election night may indeed be one for the ages.

miringoff-caricature-430Right now, you’d be hard-pressed to find a pundit who thinks the Democrats are likely to hold the House.  But, what about the Senate?  Here, things are more complicated. So, let me offer my estimates for the likely body count for the upper chamber.

Let’s start with the base numbers.  The Democrats currently have 57 seats, plus two independents, for a total of 59.  That means the GOP must pick up a net 10 seats to take control.  (The tie goes to the Democrats with VP Biden as the tie-breaker).   Acquiring a ten-spot is no small potatoes but seems to be more in reach as Election Day nears than at any other time this fall.

First off, the Democrats’ hope of offsetting losses elsewhere by picking up a seat currently held by the GOP (Missouri, Kentucky, New Hampshire) doesn’t seem to be materializing.

Now, the GOP starts off with a quick two-spot with Democrats retiring in Indiana (Bayh) and North Dakota (Dorgan).  And, trouble is brewing for many incumbent Democrats trying to hold on against the potential Republican tidal wave.

Democrats in trouble are in Arkansas (Lincoln) and Wisconsin (Feingold).  That would the net GOP gain to +4.

There is a group of toss-up states including California (Boxer), Colorado (Bennett, the Salazar seat), Illinois (Giannoulias, the Burris/Obama seat), Nevada (Reid), Pennsylvania (Sestak) (the Specter seat), Washington State (Murray), and West Virginia (Manchin, the Byrd seat).  The Republicans would have to win six of these seats to bring the total to +10.  With the exception of West Virginia, these were all Obama friendly states in 2008.

If this election is about a sleepy Democratic base, then the best thing the Democrats have going for them, as they try to salvage this fall’s election, is the fracturing of the GOP.  The tea party giveth and the tea party taketh away.  In this instance, Delaware (Coons, the Kaufman/ Biden seat) once a likely steal for the GOP is now solidly in the Democratic column thanks to Palin look-alike Christine O’Donnell.  And, in Connecticut, the Democrat Blumenthal (the Dodd seat) seems to be holding off a strong challenge from tea party supported Linda McMahon.

The bottom line:  In this election cycle, voters are clearly saying “no” to politics as usual, but they also are questioning politics of the very unusual.

So, the odds still favor the Democrats holding the Senate, even if there margin is slim.  In fact, the GOP goal of achieving a ten seat pickup has only happened twice in many decades, 1958 and 1980.

10/21: Any Way You Slice It…

By Barbara Carvalho

If you are a devotee of politics or just a casual observer, you’ve been hearing a whole lot this election cycle about the enthusiasm gap strongly favoring the GOP and destined to send the Democrats scurrying for cover.

carvalho-caricature-430The case for a GOP rout goes something like this.  According to the latest McClatchy- Marist Poll, 51% of Republican voters around the nation tell us they are “very enthusiastic” about voting this November compared to a paltry 28% for the Democrats.

Turnout is tied to motivation.  The Democrats who this time represent the incumbent party no longer have the winds of change at their backs.  Instead, they must navigate powerful head winds.

Drilling down into the numbers, the potential for a Democratic disaster is even more apparent.  Younger voters (those under 30) clock in at 11% on the” very enthusiastic” scale.  Their older counterparts (those over 60) are a far more robust 48% on this question.  By political ideology, 27% of liberals are eagerly counting down the days to November 2nd, whereas 53% of conservative self-identifiers are so inclined.  The electorate that ushered in Barack Obama to the White House two years ago is now on the sidelines suggesting turnout won’t resemble 2008.

Swing voters may opt out of the electorate, not uncommon in off year elections.  No wonder team Obama is trying everything possible at this late date to re-enthuse his core supporters.

Of course, all of these poll numbers are aimed at a moving target.  Campaign dynamics often create late action as voters focus their sights on an approaching election.  Certainly, the White House has its electoral game face on.  And, Democratic candidates are aware of the uphill fight they face.   But, so far the tea leaves are mostly pointing the GOP’s way.

10/21: On-Demand TV: What’s the Story?

A recent Marist poll suggests our TV viewing habits are undergoing massive changes. 16% of U.S. residents are watching most TV shows using their DVRs, while another 9% are watching most shows on the Web. If demographics are any indication, it won’t be long before these numbers climb even higher: only 56% of people under 45 watch most TV shows in real time compared with 77% of their elders. The implications are straightforward: many of us are enjoying the flexibility of the digital age, which doesn’t require us to be in our living rooms on a certain day at a certain time to catch our favorite programs.

goldman-caricature-430A more intriguing question might have to do with what we’re watching rather than how we’re watching. Our evolving habits could alter (and may have already altered) the structure and content of television shows.

It’s not hard to imagine possible changes in structure. Freed from strict programming schedules, shows needn’t be edited into to half-hour and hour-long blocks that alternate between content and ads. Distributors can also be more creative with ad placement. Hulu.com, which offers TV shows in full, sometimes allows users to choose to view a long advertisement before their show starts instead of experiencing the traditional interruptions. Many shows resort to narrative devices that pump up suspense prior to commercials — what better way to make viewers sit through the beer and insurance ads? — and on-demand formats may give writers the confidence to ditch these tired conventions.

On-demand technology also allows us to start at the beginning of each series. Traditional TV shows, eager to pick up viewers in the first season, the third season, or whatever season, usually aren’t structured so that knowledge of past episodes are crucial to understanding the show. Instead, mainstream programs are designed to deliver their thrills or laughs in a short period of time, followed by satisfying closure.  Conflict is established in the first minute and resolved prior to the end of the half-hour or hour. Law & Order has mastered this form, hooking us before the credits with a crime scene, often drenched in blood, and then rewarding us one hour later by bringing the depraved perp to justice.  House thrives on the same trick, although the mystery is medical rather than criminal (the amount of blood being roughly the same). In both shows, the characters have histories, but knowing their back stories aren’t essential to following the action.

I’m sure there will always be a place for such tactics, but I also hope the new technology could spur writers to be more inventive when organizing plots. Individual episodes should still be self-contained, but they can also expand the less obvious narrative threads planted in earlier shows, as well as continue thematic and visual motifs. One of the common compliments lavished on shows such as The Wire and The Sopranos was that they told stories with novelistic complexity; each episode functioned as a book chapter, not only advancing another increment of plot, but also contributing, in a less linear way, to the narrative whole that stretched from the first episode to the last, many seasons later.

This could all be wishful thinking; the money-making requirements of on-demand content could shape our new media stories in ways that aren’t especially respectful of narrative integrity. I’ve encountered plenty of three-minute comedy and sports highlight clips that start off with pre-roll ads, boasting a content-to-commercial ratio that traditional TV advertisers could only dream of. But, here’s hoping that advances in technology will promote advances in TV shows.

One final thought — to the 7% of U.S. residents who don’t watch TV at all, I say … wow. I’m not sure what you’re doing with your free time, but I have a feeling it’s more productive than watching TV, no matter what format.

10/1: College Football in the Lone Star State

By John Sparks

**Editor’s note—in the interest of full disclosure, in addition to being part of the Marist Poll team, the author is also on the faculty of the Mayborn School of Journalism at the University of North Texas.

sparks-caricature-440Something strange is in the air.  It’s the final week of September in Texas.

No one is asking, “How ‘bout them Cowboys?”  They’re 1-2.

Baseball fans are talking about a Red October in Arlington since the Texas Rangers have clinched only their third divisional championship in franchise history.

But, this is Texas where there are really just two sports that really count:  football and spring football.

And with America’s Team in the same shape as America’s economy, the talk turns to college and high school football.

College football may be the free farm system of the NFL, but it’s big business and serious stuff in the Lone Star State.

The University of Texas annual $120 million sports budget is fueled by ticket sales, television contracts, and t-shirts (merchandise licensing).  Now UT is negotiating for its own cable television network.

It’s more than “win one for the Gipper.”  Football is also an integral part of drawing back well-heeled alumni to sustain other on-campus endeavors.

That’s one of the reasons why you will see construction cranes today building a new $78 million football stadium and high-rise hotel for the University of North Texas.

UNT is located in Denton 30 miles north of Dallas and Fort Worth. UNT is the fourth largest university in the state with an enrollment of some 37,000 students.

UNT is NOT a college football power house and never has been.  It can’t compete with UT, but it must compete with the Dallas Cowboys, the Texas Rangers, the Dallas Mavericks, TCU, and SMU for the north Texas entertainment dollars.  And, it competes for those about as well as its teams do on the field.

Yet it continues to play.  It’s too important not to… especially if you want to sustain high enrollments, land high dollar research grants, and gain national prestige.

The biggest name to ever come out of the football program was a defensive lineman you may have heard of—“Mean Joe” Green.  He went from the North Texas Eagles to the Pittsburgh Steelers.  You’ll find a bust of him in the NFL Hall of Fame in Canton.

Despite Mean Joe, UNT has not been known for its football program, but for its “One O’Clock Lab Band” which has performed for presidents, has accompanied Ella Fitzgerald, and produced members for the Stan Kenton and Woody Herman bands.

But, this is Texas and football is king.  That’s why a few weeks ago the UNT football team traveled to Clemson to become cannon fodder for a national football powerhouse — for half the gate, a share of the ESPN television revenue, and national exposure for a program desperately wanting to break into the big time.

What is college football?  It’s an American tradition.  But, it’s also in a fight for survival where colleges and universities find themselves dealing with the same reality taking place in the private sector where the big corporations get bigger, the smaller ones fight to stay alive, and those that can’t go out of business.

It’s also like the international arms race.  There are the superpowers who possess nuclear weapons (Divison I football programs and their Heisman candidates), and then there are the smaller emerging Third World countries who want to compete with the big boys.

And for some of us who just enjoy sports, it keeps us occupied between the World Series and when pitchers and catchers report again in February.

9/30: Polls, Polls Everywhere

By Dr. Lee M. Miringoff

Don’t be thrown by a recent flurry of New York State polls on the governor’s contest between “The Son also Rises” Andrew Cuomo and “I’ll clean up Albany with a baseball bat” Carl Paladino.  Is Cuomo ahead by 6 points (Quinnipiac) or 33 points (Siena), or somewhere in between, 19 points (Marist)?  Much of the difference can be explained in the varied methodologies of the polling organizations.   Were the numbers based upon registered or likely voters?  Was former Conservative Party candidate Rick Lazio included in the tossup question?

miringoff-caricature-430Public opinion polling has a statistical basis but a great deal of the sausage making has to do with the judgments and interpretations of the various pollsters.  How are respondents selected? Are cell phones being used as well as landlines? What effort is being made to reach hard to reach voters? What is the question wording and order?  Is the quality of the interviewing up to industry standards? How is the data balanced to ensure it reflects the electorate?   AND, so much more…

Clearly, not all polls are created equally.  Given the range of possibilities each poll organization can utilize, it may be more surprising that poll results are often similar and not all over the map as recently occurred in the New York governor’s race.

Now, this electorate is a tougher read than in recent election cycles, especially when it comes to who is likely to turn out.  It is a volatile time, and the polls will need to pick up on that uncertainty.  Having said that, I suspect the next round of Cuomo-Paladino polls to be singing a similar tune.  It is also unlikely the media will serve up a similar amount of coverage to the “polls are similar” story as the recent avalanche of words devoted to the “why polls are so different.”

9/30: Back to the Statistical Drawing Board

By Barbara Carvalho

I couldn’t help but notice that, according to the NBER (National Bureau of Economic Research), the economic recession is over.  This caught me off guard because I was under the impression that the economy was still teetering, mired in a slump comparable to the Chicago Cubs qualifying for post-season play.

carvalho-caricature-430So, I took a closer look and was even more astonished that NBER’s September 20th release was based on data dating back to June 2009.  Clearly, the problems that Americans are experiencing as they try to make ends meet are far more immediate than this report.   And, to add to my cognitive dissonance, according to the latest McClatchy-Marist national survey, 80% of the nation thinks the U.S. economy is currently in an economic recession.   Go figure!

Now, President Obama, donning his “politician-in-chief” hat, quickly pointed out how the economists are off-base matched up against people struggling to pay their daily bills.   But, the economists have their tried and failed models which calibrate the relative health of the economy even if they don’t jive with public realities.  The ol’ “perfessor” Casey Stengel might be instructive to these financial forecasters.  “Can’t anybody here play this game?” Step up to the plate and revise your statistical models.  If not, run the risk of being cast aside in the public dialogue.