Philip Dick, Preschool and Schrödinger’s Cat

…but anyone who has spent more than a minute thinking about education reform knows that kids experiences between the time they are born and the time they enter kindergarten at age five matter a whole lot in terms of how well they are going to do once they are in school, and I would say that even hardened cynics would concede that high quality preschool programs could make a dent in our mile-wide achievement gaps.” — Michael Petrilli, around the 1:24 mark.

As of 2013, no one knows how to use government programs to provide large numbers of small children who are not flourishing with what they need. It’s not a matter of money. We just don’t know how.Charles Murray

“Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away.” Philip K. Dick

You know how every one mentions the Perry project as the gold standard, a small “hothouse” study that had good results but the fear is the results can’t be replicated? Here’s the data they’re talking about comparing cohorts at age 27 and age 40 (click to enlarge):

So all those people tweeting and posting excitedly about the pre-school initiative—this is what they’re worked up about? “Hey, if we take really incredibly at-risk kids and spend billions on them in pre-school and manage to replicate the very best outcome we’ve ever managed, only 1 in 3 of them will be arrested five times by their 40th birthday, instead of 1 in 2!”

That’s the gold standard, the “good news” in preschool programs: the achievement gap moves barely a nudge, measured cognitive ability goes up a tad, and the jail gap isn’t quite as spectacularly awful. Pick your own personal favorite preschool research and you’ll still get the same results: not anything to complain about, but the subjects are still much more similar to the control group than to any middle-class norms.

And yet, do-gooders keep talking up preschool, despite Russ Whitehurst‘s appeal for hardheadedness. They blow past the so-far indifferent results and talk up the happy day when we’ll do it right. Then they combine that dream with the current meme on the Vocabulary Deficit—currently in vogue because of E. D. Hirsch and the NAEP results—and so you see folks on the right, left, and even the supposedly unbiased talking up the possibility that vocabulary instruction, or the lack thereof, is causing the achievement gap.

But I’m going to ask everyone to think about Erwin Schrödinger’s paradox, sort of.

Say a single welfare mom has a sixth baby that she doesn’t really want and in a moment of grief and despair she sticks the baby in a box with a subatomic parti….no, wait, that won’t work. But she puts the baby in a box and leaves it on a street corner in front of a security camera—and then, right after she drops the baby off, the camera breaks and the last shot we have is of the foundling sitting in the box, while a rich, childless couple approaches, just after having been rejected by their ninth adoption agency, in search of a child to whom they can devote their lives and considerable income.

We don’t know what the child’s ultimate fate is. Maybe the rich, childless couple happen upon the baby and raise it as their own. Or maybe the single welfare mom comes to her senses and returns to her baby, which she raises with her other five kids by different fathers. The security camera image doesn’t say, so as with Schrödinger’s cat, we can imagine either outcome.

According to the vast majority of educated elites, the adopted version of the child would be successful and happy, starting preschool with a rich vocabulary and, after an academically demanding high school career, embarking on a successful adult journey. The version raised with the welfare mother would, in contrast, start preschool with a vocabulary deficit in the thousands of words, which a struggling public school with incompetent teachers won’t be able to fill, and embark upon adulthood in a life of poverty—assuming that adulthood didn’t start earlier than eighteen with either a pregnancy or a jail term.

According to the experts who actually study these outcomes, the environment in which the child is raised would have relatively little impact. Adoption studies don’t usually track granular academic achievement such as grades and test scores, but they do track IQ and personality and long-term academic outcomes (highest degree received, etc), and all available evidence from adoption studies says that by adulthood, IQ tracks more closely to the biological parent than the adoptive parents.

So if we were staring at that last frozen image from the security camera, wondering if the rich parents or the struggling welfare mom ended up with the baby, we could console ourselves on this point: academically, the outcomes would probably be a wash.

For the past twenty years or so, our educational policy has been devoted to ignoring the considerable mountain of data that suggests neither government nor parents can do much to mitigate the academic and life outcomes of children living in poverty, because the outcomes aren’t really caused by the poverty. All research suggests that the child’s IQ is linked closely to the biological parents’ and IQ, not poverty, has the strongest link to academic outcomes.

To point this out in public is to commit heresy or, as Steve Sailer puts it, to invite a “point and sputter” fest. Blah blah Richard Nisbett, blah blah French adoption study, blah blah blah BLAH Malcolm Gladwell, blah blah Duckworth (who did, after all, find that “earning a high IQ score requires high intelligence in addition to high motivation”).

If you are genuinely wondering what to believe, don’t cherrypick. Read a summary of generally accepted understanding (Intelligence: Knowns and Unknowns). Definitely take any claims of making young children smarter with a big dollop of skepticism, since fadeout is a nearly universal downer when looking back at early childhood studies. And if you ever see a mention of the Flynn Effect, go ask James Flynn himself:

The most radical form of environmental intervention is adoption into a privileged home. Adoptive parents often wonder why the adopted child loses ground on their natural children. If their own children inherit elite genes and the adopted child has average genes, then as parents slowly lose the ability to impose an equally enriched environment on both, the individual differences in genes begin to dominate.

(I guess Nisbett missed that, given his liberal appeal to the expert Flynn, coupled with what seems to me a major misrepresentation of adoption studies.)

Actual experts, in other words, will point out that E. D. Hirsch and all the pre-school advocates probably have it backwards, that vocabulary deficits don’t cause low cognitive ability, but that low cognitive ability is the source of vocabulary deficits. Knowing more vocabulary doesn’t make you smarter. Smarter people know more vocabulary.

But time and again, the world will be assured by some well-meaning elite that really—no, really—all IQ really measures is a person’s education. People with high IQs were given a good education, people with low IQs were not. Preschoolers with high vocabularies are just reflecting their superior education. But here’s a nice overview of three recent studies that specifically test whether education drives cognitive ability or the other way around. All three found that cognitive ability (IQ) drives education achievement to a great degree. (Richard Nisbett doesn’t mention those studies, either. But then, he also says that The Bell Curve was widely acclaimed by an uncritical press. Um. What?)

We don’t have a lot of research on IQ and specific educational outcomes—say, correlating reading ability or middle school algebra results with IQ. You’d think that the people who wince at the very mention of IQ would be pushing for unequivocal research on IQ and test scores of school age kids. After all, research would prove all these pernicious myths about IQ were wrong once and for all, right? Take, say, a longitudinal study of 10,000 children, from preschool to adulthood, of all incomes and races. Test their IQ, vocabulary word bank, and other cognitive markers as appropriate. Collect parental SES, parental education, parental marital status, parental behaviors (do they read to their kids? Do they beat their kids? Do they have drugs in the house? and so on), early education status, race, location….pick your demographic data. Then yearly collect their GPA and test scores, their transcripts as they move through high school. And see what pops up. How well did IQ predict test scores and GPA? How much did poverty impact the scores kids with high IQs? How much did parental wealth influence the outcomes of kids with low IQs?

But there won’t ever be that kind of study. Why?

Because poor white kids outscore non-poor black kids so consistently that it would make the news if they didn’t. Here’s a cite from 1991 test scores, back before the College Board stopped sorting by both income and race: satscoresbyraceincome91 (As well as my usual standby cite)

and here’s a recent study that establishes the SAT as a reliable IQ predictor.

But it’s not just the SAT; low income whites outperform “not-poor” blacks everywhere—the NAEP data ruthlessly collects this data every year:

2011naepreadingraceincome

2011naepraceincome

California’s CST scores show the same thing: economically disadvantaged whites outperform non-economically disadvantaged blacks and basically tie with non-economically disadvantaged Hispanics.

So no one in the educational policy business is in any hurry to call for long-term research on income, IQ, and test scores (state, SAT, AP, whatever). Much easier, really, to continue talking about poverty, environment and really crappy teachers, secure in the knowledge that anyone observing the naked emperor will be castigated as a racist.

But just suppose we completed this study I propose, and tracked school/NAEP/SAT test scores by IQ over a long period of time. Tracked from age 2 on, imagine the study shows that low-income kids with higher than average IQs have test scores and academic skills comparable, if not quite as high, as higher than average middle and high income kids. Likewise, high-income kids with low IQs have test scores and skills similar to low income kids with equivalent cognitive abilities. Imagine that we remove every shred of a reason to blame poverty for anything more than a high distribution of kids with low cognitive ability, thus making the schools hard to manage and blunting slightly the brightest kids’ ability to learn in such a loud environment.

In other words, imagine the unthinkable: the achievement “gap” is just an artifact of IQ distribution.

Do I hope this hypothetical study would result in this finding? No. I would, in fact, be pleased to learn that poor, high IQ kids faded due to lack of development and support in their schools, drowning in low ability kids, and that rich kids with low IQs do substantially better than poor kids with the same IQs. That’s a problem we could fix. But I worry that for the most part, such a study would end with the hypothetical results I propose, because based on available data, it seems the most likely finding.

But again, all I’m asking here is that you imagine this outcome. Here’s what I’m trying to get at: what conclusions would we be required to accept, however reluctantly?

If IQ is the root cause of the achievement gap, the vast majority of those low income children with vocabulary deficits have cognitive abilities much lower than average. It would also follow that blacks and Hispanics, on average, have cognitive abilities lower than whites and Asians. Coupling those facts with previous research, it would mean the achievement gap can’t be closed with the tools we have at this time.

It would not follow that all poor kids are unintelligent, that “blacks/Hispanics aren’t as smart as whites/Asians”, or that IQ is genetically linked to race.

Okay. So let’s continue through this hypothetical and posit that we accepted these conclusions. (ha ha! this is me, laughing at my hopeless optimism. But work with me.)

For starters, we could accept that academically speaking, the Schrödinger’s Cat experiment would not yield dramatically different outcomes and that preschool isn’t even a tiny bit of a magic learning pill. We might be satisfied with preschool that, as Charles Murray says, “buys some [low income children] a few hours a day in a safer, warmer and more nurturing environment than the one they have at home”. Maybe we’d stop holding preschool responsible for long-term academic outcomes and ask instead how it helps poor kids with unstable home environments and parents with varying degrees of competency, convincing these kids that their country and community cares about them and wants them to be safe.

Maybe we’d get to the point where we start exploring the best educational methods for kids with low cognitive ability. Sure, we’d start with Direct Instruction, although I can’t be the only teacher who doesn’t see a miracle at work in this old video. Show me the part where they remember it a month later and I’ll be impressed. And if you add “for kids of low to mid-cognitive ability” to the end of every E. D. Hirsch sentence, you’d have a perfect prescription for elementary and middle school education. The problem with Hirsch, as I mentioned to Robert Pondiscio in the comments of this post, lies in our “cultural diversity”—that is, teaching specific content leads to “cultural homogeneity” and no, no, no, that just won’t do. Better to not educate our low ability blacks and Hispanics at all then educate them in a useful content knowledge that wasn’t Afro or Latino-centric.

Someone’s going to chime in when I finally post this and say “But Ed, you don’t understand. If we teach them with Direct Instruction and Core Knowledge, the achievement gap will disappear! Look at KIPP’s results! Look at Rocketship Academy!” and I warn him to beware the false god of elementary school test scores. If the achievement gap is a function of IQ distribution, then effective education methods will not fix the gap, but rather help us educate low-IQ kids in a way they find meaningful and interesting, which will keep them invested in the process rather than giving up.

Let’s leave what to do about high school for a different post, because this one will be long enough.

What the results of such a study would do, I hope, is force everyone to stop thinking of low test scores as a missed opportunity to create more computer programmers or doctors but rather as a natural outcome of IQ distribution. With luck, well-meaning reformers will realize that they must stop looking at low test scores as an indictment of the educational system. Well-meaning progressives might cease their declarations that poverty and the evils of income inequality are stopping our poorest children from achieving college. Perhaps the results would stop educators from making low IQ kids feel utterly hopeless by declaring that more school, more learning, is their only possible chance for success, and end permanently the moralistic drumbeating for “lifelong learning”. Maybe we’d start using our considerable creativity to address the obvious pitfalls that could come about if we accepted the reality of low IQs. We don’t want to return to a educational world in which such kids are relegated to dreary, regimented education, because we must give all our kids as many skills and as much knowledge as they can absorb. Acceptance does not mean resignation and abandonment.

And most of all, I hope, any reasonable person who understood the impact of IQ on academic and life achievement would instantly realize that we must stop importing low-skilled competition to further reduce the opportunities for our own citizens. Once everyone stops fooling themselves about the quality of American education and realizes that we aren’t doing all that badly once we control for IQ, surely immigration enforcement and even reduction must follow. If enforcement means more illegal Mexicans, Guatemalans, and Chinese head on back home, then our own unskilled and low-skilled workers have more opportunities, even if it raises restaurant prices to pay for legal cooks and busboys, forces homeowners to take care of their own lawns, and makes farmers finally invest in mechanization, or whatever other dire outcome businesses currently predict. Reducing immigration flow means low ability children have less competition for funding, because lord knows our current generous immigration policies forces schools to channel a whole bunch of money into teaching low-IQ kids, both legal and illegal, who weren’t born here and to whom we owe allegiance only because of our own generosity. Maybe we’d even get toughminded enough to realize that the best DREAM Act legislation would send the well-educated undocumented kid back to their country of origin with a little note saying “Hey, this one’s really bright. Give him a job!”

But of course, I’m just positing a hypothetical. We don’t know that the bulk of our kids living in poverty have low test scores because they have low IQs. And we don’t want to find out. Instead, we’ll just refuse to believe in IQ and pray it goes away.

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45 responses to “Philip Dick, Preschool and Schrödinger’s Cat

  • Hattie

    Yes, you said that this is a hypothetical, but I just want to thank you.

    I keep reading and encountering people who claim that everything is fine and dandy, except for all the morons – like me! – who didn’t study STEM subjects. Apparently, there are jobs begging for *all* the graduates in those fields, and only my laziness and moral turpitude sent me into the humanities.

    Never mind that my IQ is in the 90-95 bracket. Never mind that I’m far more verbal than mathematical. Don’t even consider that there is no shortage of STEM grads and they’re not doing well either.

    If people acknowledge that some of us genuinely aren’t able for, say, computer programming (or whatever job/sector will save the economy this week), or that even the higher mathematical IQ professions won’t make people economically bulletproof, then their world crumbles. The employment crisis, especially among the young, stops being a matter that is our own fault and can be solved if we only pull ourselves together and becomes a scary, system wide problem with no easy solutions, and which is partly imposed by powerful people. (Look at immigration.)

    So thank you, again, for this dose of compassion and realism.

    • Der Alte

      Yes, wouldn’t it be nice if this country were run based on a realistic view of what our people are really like, with the goal that any citizen willing to work and to be a bit responsible should have a good shot at a decent life?

      Instead, our governing philosophy is an interlocking network of preposterous fantasies, educational romanticism being one of them. What could be crazier than thinking there’s any point to making high school students who don’t understand grade school math take algebra? THE ANSWER: Doing exactly that for decades, finding that few of these high school students learn any algebra, and insisting that this insane practice continue.

  • MichaelWStory

    “I would, in fact, be pleased to learn that poor, high IQ kids faded due to lack of development and support in their schools, drowning in low ability kids, and that rich kids with low IQs do substantially better than poor kids with the same IQs.”

    There is a study by Leon Feinstein on the UKs 1970 British Cohort Study which showed roughly that effect but it has since come under considerable criticism for ignoring the differing effects of regression to the mean statistically. There’s a good blog post summarising the debate here: http://inequalitiesblog.wordpress.com/2011/06/16/the-rise-and-fall-of-a-killer-chart/

  • Jay Edwards

    Nice post….we have known that early enriched educational interventions do not raise IQ etc. ever since Jensen’s 1969 Harvard Educational Review article. The data were in THEN that such efforts had failed and a hypothesis was offered by Jensen to explain that failure—-which led to a lifetime of ostracism and vilification by the media and academic hacks .

    You might also look at The Coleman Report which sociologist James S. Coleman produced at the bequest of the US CONGRESS per the 1964 Civil Rights Act….they did not like its results…

    I’ve been into this area of research since 1980… And there has been no change since that time: the results are not politically palatable and will not be addressed in polite company.

    • panjoomby

      i’m late to the party but i wanted to second jay e. above – i’ve been in this since 1985 & jay e. is exactly right. outside my “field” (psychology – where they hide the only legitimate science they have – tests/measurement/statistics/ability) the few people who allow themselves to agree (with the truth) tend to be hard science types.

  • The fourth doorman of the apocalypse

    Those SAT numbers have some interesting internal structure.

    The black SAT verbal and math scores differ by about 34 or so points at all family income levels.

    The White SAT verbal and math scores differ by about 40 at the lowest family income level and rises to about 50 at the highest income level.

    The Asian SAT verbal and math scores on the other hand start with verbal scores lower than white verbal scores at the lowest family income level and a difference of around 40 or so, but they rise to having both verbal and math scores being higher that those of whites at the highest family income and having a gap of 100 or more points between their verbal and math scores.

    I wonder if we are seeing the effect of two or more sub groups among Asians?

  • Florida resident

    I can not believe how good this post is !!!
    Thank you, dear Educationrealist, thank you, thank you.
    ***
    Small comment. You wrote:
    “We don’t have a lot of research on IQ and specific educational outcomes …
    … But there won’t ever be that kind of study. Why? ”
    Actually theire is such study, by nobody else but Dr. Charles Murray, based on National Longitudinal Study of Youth:
    “Income Inequality and IQ”,

    http://www.mega.nu/ampp/murray_income_iq.pdf

    or $4.95 + $3.99 S&H on Amazon:

    How did he manage to navigate around the problem,
    which you have mentioned, is a separate question.
    ***
    My best and most respectful regards to you and your loved ones.
    Your F.r

  • Tim

    You had me at Philip K. Dick and then you threw in the cat… It’s almost too good to be true. Before I get started please understand that (as usual) this is less of a critique than a meditation.

    I feel that we should be wary of thinking of humans on a single continuum of utility based solely on their cognitive abilities for tasks that can be accomplished by filling in bubbles on a paper. Of course I understand that it’s natural for people of intellect to see the world through tinted (horn rimmed?) glasses. Bear in mind that I am thinking a larger context here than simply: ‘tests are biased.’ I tend to think of each human brain, as with every phenotype expression as an evolutionary experiment. How much energy to spend developing social pathways vs visual-spatial vs cataloging language vs motor pathways? I’m pretty good at cognitive tasks, top two percent or so… not top top, but up there. I stink at making friends however, always have. I actually had a zero batting average once, it was embarrassing. And I always have far more anxiety about a simple trip to the store than any ‘normal’ person should. I might make more money than almost every other guy I know but they have all had many more fulfilling relationships (of all kinds). Who wins in the long run? What does it mean to ‘win’ at life?

    Lets assume I adopted someone with genes coded for low cognitive abilities and I raised them as best I could, bouncing every literary reference off the child’s poor blunt skull. I could give up on them or I could work to discover if they had other talents. Maybe the child is highly social, a born entertainer or maybe they are wired for incredible physical ability and ought to be out toning their physique daily in preparation for a future running decathlons. I have no doubt that my greater wealth and secure home environment would afford greater access to athletic training, or music instruction, or whatever they might show an aptitude for, certainly more so than the foster care system. Not that I am suggesting any government program to do the above… I am most definitely not. Only that environment can help the genes express themselves in ways that are constructive or destructive. Does little Angie user her genetically given strong shapely legs to chase steeples or attract Johns?

    We have all inherited a genetic legacy shaped by a hunter gatherer past. It worked for all of us then (or we wouldn’t be here) but our modern environment only finds some of us useful and discards the rest. Do we work to change us or the environment? Both? Neither? At the minimum it would be nice if people thought of humans as a cognitively diverse species with many different aptitudes, rather than a few smart people adrift in hordes of morons. But then, reductionist thinking is still very much in vogue so maybe I ought to crawl under a rock for a while.

    • educationrealist

      I have no doubt that my greater wealth and secure home environment would afford greater access to athletic training, or music instruction, or whatever they might show an aptitude for, certainly more so than the foster care system.

      I have said before that I think SES, particularly at the high levels, should help with opportunity and professional advancement, if not actual academic outcomes. I have no proof of this, but my working class roots and lack of ambition tell me that the latter would be easier to overcome if the former were higher status.

    • misdreavus

      Your complaint is moot for the simple reason that all cognitive abilities are positively correlated, even seemingly unrelated ones such as pitch recognition and chess playing. If bobby scores one standard deviation below the mean on the WISC, just what are the odds that he will make an excellent piano player or microbiologist? Slim to none, although exceptions are known to exist.

      You also fail to comprehend that not all cognitive abilities are equally important in the context of a modern industrialized society. America would probably do just fine without break dancers, pole vaulters, and gourmet Assamese chefs. But we know exactly what countries look like where few children grow up to be microbiologists, civil engineers, or ophthalmologists. I speak of third world shit holes like Ghana and Guinea-Bissau. Luxuries like fine art or athletics simply can not flourish to their maximum extent without clean drinking water, antimalarial medications, and modern infrastructure. STEM is not only the lubricant that keeps the motor running, it is also the wheels of the vehicle and the steel girding.

      And unfortunately for liberal well wishers, as it stands, hereditary by far explains the greatest amount of human variance in the essential intelligences I refer to. Socioeconomic status, parenting, and variation in school quality do not even come close. Wishing it were not so is a sure fire recipe for failure.

    • misdreavus

      *heredity – curse the autocorrect on my smart phone.

  • Big BIll

    “As of 2013, no one knows how to use government programs to provide large numbers of small children who are not flourishing with what they need. It’s not a matter of money. We just don’t know how. ”

    It is a matter of money. Our teacher’s pensions are unfunded, they are based on an 8% ARR that was fantasy to start with. We have spent hundreds of billions of extra dollars getting NAMS up to speed and we just can’t do it.

    No one knows how to teach Africans and Mexicans, least of all African and Mexicans.

    God bless ‘em. I do hope they can figure out a solution for their communities, but we really can’t. Not only is there no money left, but I don’t think we can even scrape together another generation of eager True Believer white Ivy League girls to join Teach for America. That post-modern Puritan missionary zeal is now gone.

    Sad, of course. Pity we couldn’t do more. But there it is. Part of being an adult is learning to accept one’s limitations.

    • educationrealist

      No. I keep mulling it, but can’t figure out how to say THIS IS ALL NONSENSE without violating my “blog entries must be longer than 1000 words” policy.

      • Alexander Stanislaw

        Is it nonsense because it wouldn’t work for most countries or is it nonsense because you don’t think that the Finnish system actually does work?

    • Gordon

      A fine idea in Finland where the population is homogenous. It would probably work well in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, as well.

      Its the ‘R’ word again.

  • Jim

    Big Bill – Don’t worry, according to Krugman if we just print enough money
    everybody can have anything they want. Why didn’t somebody think of that before?

  • Roger Sweeny

    I ran across this today, which made me think of your post:

    “Robin Hanson has written extensively about ‘signalling.’ That’s when an activity is done not so much for its own sake, but to display something about yourself that would otherwise be invisible. I think that’s what’s happening here. I think it’s mostly a desire to identify yourself as belonging to a particular peer group, or social/political group, that thinks helmets are a good idea. It’s saying, ‘I’m one of us — the type that’s intelligent enough to know that helmets reduce risk, and understand that it’s a good idea to wear them.’ It’s the way you signal to the world that you’re a thoughtful, high-status Ken Dryden-type, and not a low-status Don Cherry-type, the type that’s too shortsighted to care about his own brain. For that to work, you have to treat helmet-wearing as obvious and non-negotiable. If you start arguing open-mindedly about risk numbers, you send the wrong signal. You show that your position on helmets is iffy, that it’s not an obvious moral issue, that maybe you’re not as Drydenish as the rest of your group. It’s like … let’s say I’m a famous and well-respected political pundit. And I say, ‘You know, the KKK thinks black people are less intelligent than whites. I’m going to go and study that, and see if they’re right.’ My career is over. Instantly. And it’s over if even, next month, I come back and say, I’ve looked over all this data, and I’ve studied it from 100 different angles, and you know what? It’s not true at all. Those KKK guys have been intellectually dishonest!’ The world would still see me as a potential racist. Why? Because I was willing to *consider* the idea that the moral issue was negotiable. I gave the signal that I care about the bottom line — whether or not the statement is true — more than I care about the moral principle that you shouldn’t say things like that.”

    -Phil Birnbaum, “Bicycle Helmets IV.” In the comments he was already directed to the literature on the psychology of taboo.

    via http://increasingmu.wordpress.com/2013/02/27/browsing-catharsis-02-27-13/

  • Anthony

    Here’s something interesting: Denial of racial differences in IQ leads to teachers being blamed for poor results that they’re not really at fault for.

    Personal anectode: The town I live in has a range of income levels and a broad racial mix. Of course, there’s clumping – some schools have more poor kids, more black kids, more hispanic kids, more Asian kids, than others. At one point, I poked into the state test scores. For the middle schools, while there was a broad range of overall test scores, white kids had the same average at each school. The between-school differences are entirely due to different demographics (possibly – there is some variation in the other racial groups’ averages between schools). Which says to me that the teachers at the low-performing schools are just as good as at the high-performing schools. It’s the kids that are different. As a result, as long as the school environment is physically safe (and not terribly disrupted, which it isn’t in my town), I don’t care what the overall scores at my daughter’s school are. White kids do as well at our neighborhood school as kids in the more-white schools in town.

    However, people who can’t accept that black and hispanic kids aren’t going to do as well, on average, as white and Asian kids, have to find some other cause for the differential outcomes. As most of the theories advanced by the commentariat are patently ludicrous, people fall back on “the teachers are no good”, because the teachers are the ones spending all that time with the kids.

    If someone can figure out a way to make it acceptable to discuss racial cognitive differences, then we can point out that white kids today are doing as well as they were 30-40 years ago, and as well as most European kids; that black kids are (probably) doing as well as they were 30-40 years ago, and that we’re doing ok with hispanic kids, but there’s a lot more hispanic kids than there used to be, and that changes the overall averages. And that it’s not the fault of the teachers.

    • Jay Edwards (@minedyingbride)

      The Coleman Report came essentially to the same conclusions 50 odd years ago… That between school differences in performance where not related to any schooling variables like class size, teacher quality ( as msr. by years of experience), etc…Congress shelved the study they had commissioned… Good luck finding a copy… I found one at UT Austin Library…James S.Coleman, a sociologist was the author….the data where in by 1970 that early intervention doesn’t raise IQ and that differences between schools cannot account for the differences in performance that are found .

  • Jim

    Some group of people have to be demonized for any social failure. Unfortunately for teachers they are the obvious candidates.

    • Roger Sweeny

      Funny, hardly anyone demonizes fire fighters because some buildings burn. Hardly anyone demonizes police officers because there is some crime. Most people believe that police officers and fire fighters can only do so much.

      However, most everyone in the ed business–schools of education, departments of education, teachers unions–says that it is not unreasonable to expect the vast majority of young people to graduate high school, and for most of those graduates to have taken a rigorous college prep program. A good teacher can successfully teach anyone who isn’t seriously mentally deficient.

      Since lots of young people don’t learn much, the obvious conclusion is that there must be a lack of good teachers. As long as the public face of education says that the impossible is possible, teachers will be demonized for failing to deliver the impossible.

  • Jordan T

    Maybe we can’t make the achievement gap disappear, but that doesn’t mean public investment in preschool for at-risk kids is a waste of money. Preschool education for at-risk youth, despite your pessimistic reading of the evidence, is worth the investment:

    “This estimate of the overall annual social rate of return to the Perry
    program is in the range of 7–10%. For the benefit of non-economist
    readers, annual rates of return of this magnitude, if compounded and
    reinvested annually over a 65 year life, imply that each dollar invested
    at age 4 yields a return of 60–300 dollars by age 65. Stated another
    way, the benefit-cost ratio for the Perry program, accounting for deadweight costs of taxes and assuming a 3% discount rate, ranges from 7 to 12 dollars per person, i.e., each dollar invested returns in present value terms 7 to 12 dollars back to society”

    https://heckman.uchicago.edu/sites/heckman.uchicago.edu/files/uploads/Heckman_etal_2010_RateofRtn-to-Perry.pdf

    Of course, implementing a preschool program on a large scale will necessarily involve inefficiencies, but as long as the return remains positive it’s worth paying for.

  • The Dark Enlightenment and Me | educationrealist

    [...] education policy debate were ignoring cognitive ability. He asked about poverty, I told him about poor whites outscoring high income blacks, he asked for cites. Over a period of a year or so, he read the info I gave him and sent me [...]

  • Most Popular Posts and Favorites | educationrealist

    [...] Philip Dick, Preschool and Schrödinger’s Cat [...]

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    [...] Philip Dick, Preschool and Schrödinger’s Cat (educationrealist.wordpress.com) [...]

  • Education Reform MUST READ: Reality Check on Head Start/preschool | mattwingard

    […] Philip Dick, Preschool and Schrödinger’s Cat | educationrealist educationrealist.wordpress.com/2013/04/05/philip-d…s-cat […]

  • Jason Richwine and Goring the Media’s Ox | educationrealist

    […] Finally, Richwine wrote a much-discussed takedown of Richard Nisbett’s book Intelligence and How to Get It (which I used in my preschool and Philip Dick essay.) […]

  • In the Interim, Your Thoughts? | educationrealist

    […] Philip K. Dick article, which is the first serious challenger to Algebra and the Pointlessness of the Whole Damn Thing as […]

  • What Can We Blame Teacher Unions For? | educationrealist

    […] our kids is not give them terrible teachers protected by thuggish unions, but ignore the role that cognitive ability plays in their ability to learn the material. Our system punishes bright kids, makes life too easy […]

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    […] work but the feds need to push the can—the acknowledgement that achievement gaps are largely cognitive—down the road a few more years, and everyone else sees this as a way to scam government […]

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    […] people say that income matters more than race to academic achievement, tell them they are lying or misinformed on your way to the […]

  • Ben Southwood

    So weird that hbd people always harp on about the science surrounding IQ/race/income etc. (which is great, and plausible), but completely ignore it when it comes to migration!

    The economic consensus is that low-skilled immigration boosts both jobs and wages, as well as lowering prices, raising productivity, sending home cash that works as very effective development aid, helping support an ageing population, boosting entrepreneurialism.

    E.g. http://www.cityam.com/article/1383698143/we-must-not-ignore-economic-evidence-immigration-s-benefits http://www.nber.org/papers/w17139 http://mpra.ub.uni-muenchen.de/49423/ http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2295373 http://economix.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/07/01/immigration-and-entrepreneurship/ http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2186978 …there’s lots lots more and almost nothing convincing in the other direction

    If I steelman your case to something that others say like “migrants destroy the social capital that ‘we’ have built up over years” then this is fairly plausible, although not found by the economists, but I need to see some non-anecdotal evidence (only the standard you would demand of the anti-hereditarians).

  • Not Why This. Just Why Not That. | educationrealist

    […] and investigation. I would like very much to learn what, exactly, we can teach people with IQs lower than 100, for […]

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    […] Philip Dick, Preschool and Schrödinger’s Cat […]

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    […] said anything that disagrees with my representation of mainstream research, most fully articulated here, I’m unaware of it. So don’t ask me about IQ and race. Ask […]

  • Just a Job | educationrealist

    […] even really know yet how to educate people with IQs less than 100, which is probably the most important educational research we aren’t doing. Maybe we can move some of the kids from unskilled to skilled technician […]

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    […] Philip Dick, Preschool, and Schrodinger’s Cat—This is one of the best things I’ve ever written. Third most popular essay on the site. […]

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