Robust Distillation for Worst-class Performance

Knowledge distillation has proven to be an effective technique in improving the performance a student model using predictions from a teacher model. However, recent work has shown that gains in average efficiency are not uniform across subgroups in the data, and in particular can often come at the cost of accuracy on rare subgroups and classes. To preserve strong performance across classes that may follow a long-tailed distribution, we develop distillation techniques that are tailored to improve the student's worst-class performance. Specifically, we introduce robust optimization objectives in different combinations for the teacher and student, and further allow for training with any tradeoff between the overall accuracy and the robust worst-class objective. We show empirically that our robust distillation techniques not only achieve better worst-class performance, but also lead to Pareto improvement in the tradeoff between overall performance and worst-class performance compared to other baseline methods. Theoretically, we provide insights into what makes a good teacher when the goal is to train a robust student.

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