Saturday, May 24, 2008

Meeting Steven Levitt

I had the wonderful opportunity recently to meet with Steven Levitt in his office and talk about the importance and the possibilities of research in the areas of Breakthrough's work. Levitt co-authored the book Freakonomics and is currently the Alvin H. Baum Professor of Economics at the University of Chicago, director of the Becker Center on Chicago Price Theory at the University of Chicago Graduate School of Business, and co-editor of the Journal of Political Economy published by the University of Chicago Press.

He was, of course, brilliant and very interesting to talk with. One of the comments he made that struck me was that he doesn't feel that most organizations like ours really want research because we don't want to know if we are not being effective. Ouch! It reminded me of John McKnight's claims in the book, The Careless Society, that social programs and social professionals perpetuate an uncaring industry primarily for our own purposes.

So, let me say, I want research. I want to know what works and how we can improve our services. And, while I know professional caregivers can become callous and ineffective, I don't agree with McKnight that professionalism precludes caring. When I need eyeglasses, I don't just want someone who cares about whether I can see or not, I want a trained professional who knows how to give me a good contact prescription. But, of course, the key is to find caring professionals who use their training and gifts to minister with the love of Jesus!

Levitt mentioned the possibility of Breakthrough being able to get some help with research from Sudhir Alladi Venkatesh, which excites me very much since I am currently reading two of his books, Off the Books: The Underground Economy of the Urban Poor, and Gang Leader for a Day.

It was a treat to accompany Levitt after the interview to a box lunch lecture by economist, Dr. Gary Becker, who spoke about inequalities in education. It was interesting to look at education from an economic perspective, supply and demand. People with education are happier, healthier, live longer and make more money. Globalization is increasing the supply of low-skilled workers leading to sinking salaries while driving up the demand and pay for educated workers. Education is a human capital investment with huge return. He asked the provocative question, so why are we not investing more in education?

Here's a practical investment opportunity for you. We found last year that the kids who participated in Breakthrough's Summer Studies Program gained three months in their reading scores, while those who did not participate fell back three months, a six month difference! With four years of participation in the Breakthrough Summer Studies Program reading scores will comparatively advance two grade levels. The Summer Studies Program costs $1,786 per student, or $223.25 per week. This summer we will enroll 50 students, and we’ll watch them take strides toward reading proficiency and so much more.

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1 comment:

Westy said...

Whoah, that's pretty awesome!

I would love to have been a fly on the wall as you chatted. I really enjoy reading about the work all of those folks are doing.

In fact, a couple years ago I emailed Mr. Levitt and Alex Kotlowitz to talk about my work with Breakthrough and ask if they saw any application for their work with what we do. I don't recall exactly what I said but I was excited by the idea, and still am.

Here's to more research indeed!