Tag Archives: race

Midterms and Ability Indicators

Again with the big monster post (Escaping Poverty has eclipsed all but the top post of my old top 6, and my total blog view count as of today is 45,134), and again with the procrastination of success. I did not watch reruns while in hiding; it was All Election All the Time, and now I’m depressed. In the VDH typology, I’m a Near Fatalist, but an optimistic one. Like Megan McArdle, I think that the demographic changes will be offset by the inability of the Dems to manage a coalition with lots of demands but little else—and yes, I think, after a while, that the producers will wander over to the Republican side. If not, I will achieve total Fatalism.

Anyway. I got unnerved because I have many new followers, and I write about many things that may bore them because I don’t just write about policy. I have two posts almost completely done (okay, I didn’t just watch elections), but was actually intimidated to post them because they are about teaching math. Am I the only writer/blogger scared of the audience?

But I just graded midterms, and I thought I would mention something that may be illustrative to the people who are unhappy with my relatively frank discussion of race. As I wrote when I originally invoked the Voldemort View, (a notion proposed by an an anonymous teacher):

My top students are white, Hispanic, black, and Asian. My weakest students are white, Hispanic, and Asian. (No, I didn’t forget a group there.) Like all teachers, I don’t care about groups. I teach individuals. And the average IQ of a racial group doesn’t say squat about the cognitive abilities and the thousand other variables that make up each individual.

I wrote this at my previous school. So here’s what’s happening at my new school, in midterm results:

Freshman Geometry

Tied top scores: African American boy, Hispanic girl, white girl. Following right behind with one fewer right answer: two white boys. These five have consistently been the top achievers. The remaining top students are a mix of white and Hispanic (there are no other African Americans).

Low scores: two white girls, South Asian boy. Three Hispanic kids are next in line, but two of them took their time and did outstandingly well for their skill level, pulling off a D+.

The Asians in my class are all south Asian, and all but one are in the bottom half of the class, although one of those is clearly under achieving.

Keep in mind, however, that all the Asian kids are in the Honors Geometry class.

Intermediate Algebra

Top score: white senior boy, right behind him was a white sophomore boy, right behind him a Chinese junior girl and a Chinese sophomore boy, in that order. My top students, taking the tougher of the two courses I teach in one class, are a mix of whites, Asians (far east, mid-East, and south), and Hispanics (two girls, both in the top half of the top group). In the second half of the class, the top students are Chinese (but remember, this puts them in the middle of overall ability) and Hispanic.

Again, this is intermediate algebra; many of the top kids are taking Alg II/Trig.

But talking about race and cognitive ability can instantly annihilate a teacher’s career because of a flawed premise. A teacher who accepts that cognitive ability is real and explains much of the achievement gap must be a racist, sexist, or both. Racists can’t properly teach because their assumptions will color their outcomes. They’ll treat the black kids like they’re stupid, favor white kids, and assume all Asian kids are awesome math machines who can’t write. The sexists will be sighing impatiently at the girls who want more context and less competition and praising the eager beaver boys who want the facts and figures and that most horrible of all horribles, The Right Answer.

So, for what it’s worth, I offer my results to dispute that premise, and to restate: I don’t teach races, I don’t teach groups. I teach individual students.


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