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Befriending Statistics


Yesterday, I was at a zoom conference, 2022 Innovations in Education for the Global Village: Values, Vision and Impact Summit. The meeting included several speakers from Harvard University. One of them was an economist, Raj Chetty who uses big data to examine race. Dr. Chetty’s presentation* showed the stark difference in life outcomes between white and black boys born in the same year in families of the same SES and how they fare three decades later. He showed that upward mobility is more aligned with where you grow up and posits that one's neighborhood is the most important factor. I found the maps very interesting. On the national map, the places that have low upward mobility (red) are more likely to be populated by people of color than places with high upward mobility (green). This pattern persists when you look at states, counties or even cities.

The upward mobility maps were only in one section of his talk, there were several others. The conclusion from all of them was that the narrative about "pulling one’s self up" does not hold up in light of the facts. The statistics from millions of data points suggest that there are stronger forces at bay shaping neighborhoods and thereby the people in them. To the uninitiated these forces are hard to describe or explain unless you experience it.

This is one reason that the Analytic Hub is building a Psychometric Commuity of Practice. Big Data needs interpreters and translators to help elucidate a new narrative, a more inclusive telling. His talk left me with questions.

What else could we learn from big data about the area surrounding HBCUs?

How else could exisiting big data be interpreted in order to point to real solutions?

What are the implications for policy when one issue is privilege?

We may need some more psychometrician of color to flesh this out. So how about using a couple of your writing moments to learn some stats and check out Dr. Baylor’s talk today. If you’d like a longer conversation about big data, plan to join us next spring in our Community of Practice and next summer in our 3rd annual Psychometric Short Course. We are working on a big data question of our own using information from HBCU students and we definitely will need some help with telling that story. *Here's the link to the data that was presented. See the citation below for more about this study. Raj Chetty, Nathaniel Hendren, Maggie R Jones, Sonya R Porter, Race and Economic Opportunity in the United States: an Intergenerational Perspective, The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Volume 135, Issue 2, May 2020, Pages 711–783,

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