Monthly Archives: April 2013

The Dark Enlightenment and Me

I am a node on the network of the Dark Enlightenment.

I myself refer to the subject as the Voldemort View, the View that Must Not Be Named. But everyone else is naming it, and the damn names keep changing. I had just gotten used to HBD. Now, just as I’m becoming to accustomed to Dark Enlightenment, the new buzz word seems to be neoreactionary.

Steve Sailer discusses my essays, on occasion. The notorious Derb has me in his reader, a great honor even though I would take none of his infamous advice. Charles Effin’ Murray said nice things about me on Twitter. Don’t think I don’t brag about these achievements to my few friends, even fewer of whom even know this blog exists, much less read it.

So my appearance as a node shouldn’t come as much of a shock. And yet it does, a bit. I’m not ashamed or worried, nor am I rushing to disavow the association. Let’s be clear that, should my real name ever be linked to this blog, that placement on the node would be a career ender even if my individual essays didn’t do the trick. I could be logically worried, even if I’m at the third level of commitment, beyond just pointing out facts and well into theories and proposals. I could be concerned on practical grounds even while acknowledging that I meet some of the criteria: rejecting the Cathedral, beyond skeptical and flatly opposed to increased immigration at this point, worried that democracy leads to mediocrity, convinced that political labels are obsolete. (And lordy, the whole typology obsession reminds me of libertarian buddies I had in the 80s and 90s. I myself used to love typing and am depressed to discover I’m less interested as I age—just one more sign of encroaching decrepitude.)

But I’m surprised because I didn’t realize the Network had noticed me, much less adopted me, to some extent. I am not a big part of their conversations. I participate in Steve Sailer’s blog quite a bit, Razib Khan and West Hunter a little (the science is too hard), and occasionally comment on the others. In contrast, I have regular email and twitter discussions with reporters and education policy folk, both of which comprise a flattering percentage of my tiny twitter following. In the online world, I see myself as a teacher who knows a lot about education policy (as opposed to most education policy folk who barely dabbled, if at all, in teaching), rather than a member of the Network.

The newcomer will see much that shocks in the Dark Enlightenment body of work. The elites fuss over Sailer and Derbyshire, but both men are writing for general public consumption—a brave public, a curious public, but public that includes the uninitiated. The folks writing for the converted are a different story. I get a lot of traffic from Chateau Heartiste, so clicked on the site once to see what it was about, and holy crap. It’s not fun to read but what makes it tough—for me, anyway—isn’t that he’s wrong. He isn’t. He’s taking the basic economic fundamentals of mating, removing all the sentiment, tenderness, and fun from them and laying the stripped version out cold. What makes it tough is that his brutal accuracy is offset by a huge lack, and a lack that characterizes Dark Enlightenment discourse in general. Empathy, maybe? I offer this as observation, not criticism. And it’s a good thing my few friends don’t read this blog, because they’d all be commenting that “lacks empathy” is high on my checklist of personal shortcomings. But I shall push on with an example.

One of my ed school instructors became a friend, and in an early conversation, he asked me why I was so cynical about education. I told him I wasn’t cynical about education, but rather the people who wanted to “fix” it, since all sides of the 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 interesting articles he’d come acrosss. He thought The Role of Intelligence in Modern Society was extremely compelling and, like me, became fascinated by the possible differences in crystallized vs. fluid intelligence. A Hispanic, he asked me what I would say to those who point to our troubled past, in which whites denied blacks and Hispanics a chance at advanced education by tracking them out of these options.

I responded in two parts. First, I said, I would like to see hard data on the “troubled past”. Everyone repeats the truism, but I’ve never seen data. Were schools of the 60s and 70s putting high-scoring black and Hispanic kids into middle or low-tracks? Do we have proof that it happened? Because most folks have absolutely no idea how huge the gaps are, and it’s just possible that the schools weren’t actively discriminating. Second, assume that the data shows that schools were actively discriminating back then. I find it impossible to believe that today’s schools, bastions of “tolerance” lectures and multi-culti support, would suddenly initiate rampant discrimination against low income kids. But I agree that we should be extremely cautious. We should, for example, allow anyone to take advanced courses, regardless of test scores, and then carefully monitor results. We should give all sorts of support to black and Hispanic children who feel isolated in advanced courses, because like it or not, culture and group identity matters. And, as I’ve written before (and first conceived of in these conversations), we must continue to research the best ways to educate students with below average cognitive ability, rather than pretend such problems don’t exist.

About six months ago, this friend told me that I had completely transformed his thinking, so much so that he now grew impatient when he heard the usual platitudes trotted out—and since he is a researcher at an elite education school, he hears the platitudes all the time. He sees now that he teaches a doctrine, not a method (not that there is a method). He can’t understand why everyone else is in denial—that is, of course he understands, but he can’t believe the nonsense he hears spouted by people whose expertise he used to accept without question.

I convinced a full-blown liberal progressive, a guy steeped in elite ed school tradition, to consider and then largely accept cognitive ability as the root cause of the achievement gap. Bow to my greatness.

Yet he wouldn’t have listened to word one had he not known me as a prospective teacher, one who had to fight like hell to make it through the program, who cared passionately about teaching kids, helping them succeed. I am well aware that, while my opinions on cognitive ability and the social policies that ignore it haven’t changed in a decade or so, my new career as a teacher has deepened my understanding of the issues involved. I have more street cred, if you will, but I am also even more aware of the human cost of the policies I oppose—as well as the impact that my desired policies would have on many of my students. My opinions require bifocals; one lens for broader policy, one lens for the individuals I work with every day. I might oppose immigration, particularly illegal immigration, and affirmative action, but I will advise my students of every possible option they have under existing law. I have taught and coached illegal immigrants to higher SAT/ACT scores, advised African American students with solid but not awesome test scores to apply to top 30 schools, even though I knew white and Asian kids wouldn’t have a chance with those scores, even though I want a world in which African Americans wouldn’t be accepted with lower scores. Until that day, my students are my students and I’ll work to give them every advantage I can.

When people read my blog, I hope they see that part of me. Yes, I scathe and mock, yes, I despise the denial that wastes time, money, and lives, yes, I’m angry that opportunists throughout the political landscape go further than simply deny cognitive realities and blame the wrong people (teachers usually, parents sometimes) for the failure of their wholly unrealistic expectations. But I never mock the underlying conditions that everyone’s denying. I’m totally comfortable with the word “smart”, but believe the word “stupid” should be reserved for an otherwise “smart” person who just isn’t using the brains god (or genes) gave him. Feel free to mock my cognitive dissonance.

I don’t see low cognitive ability as a flaw to be fixed. I am well aware that people deny the import of cognitive ability because they see it as an insurmountable disability, one that just doesn’t fit their vision for future. What the hell are we supposed to do, in this modern society, with those who don’t have the mental abilities to master the abstract world we live in? Well, that’s the real challenge, isn’t it? Let’s set some goals, rather than deny the problem.

In other words, odd as it may sound coming from a ruthless sarcastic cynic, I see my Voldemortean views as, er, kinder and gentler than those seen from full-fledged members of the Network. I grew up overseas—-way, WAY overseas—and I’ve lived in one of the most diverse areas in the country the rest of the time. It’s easy to mock “diversity” and “multi-culturalism”, now that their sell-date seems way overdue, but here’s a story that happened last Friday:

During lunch, I’d decided to jet on over to Starbucks, something I rarely do, when I ran into one of my intermediate algebra students who had stopped by to ask me if I’d be interested in reading his science fiction screenplay. He then proceeded to tell me the story outline, about a man who woke up with temporary amnesia, struggling to make sense of the society around him. I was anxious to get my iced latte, but drawn in despite myself, as the student related the details of that society and the conflicts driving the plot. As we reached my car, he said, “…and what I really need now is someone to read it and spot all the story development gaps I missed. I know they’re there, but I need outside eyes to find them.” Tell me that’s not a writer.

We chatted for a bit, coffee be damned, and I gave him some advice and told him I’d love to read his story (Why he’s asking me, a math teacher, I dunno).

This kid is black. He’s a Nigerian immigrant. His story had nothing to do with Africans, blacks, white oppression, or anything even remotely involving civil rights. He’s a geek who wants to write a kick ass science fiction screenplay, and is spending hours of his free time crafting his vision.

When I finally left for Starbucks, I found myself trying to bring down my great mood by imagining all the ways in which he probably hadn’t acculturated. Like, his dad probably has 8 circumcised wives, all of them living off food stamps and welfare, that the kid probably wants to be rich and famous so he can recreate his father’s harem. It was all nonsense, but I was determined to crush the delirious joy I found in that little exchange, the feeling of oh my god, here’s the vision in action, here’s what everyone has in mind when they talk about giving blacks, immigrants, “people of color” equal opportunities to live the American dream. Not a kid who wants to major in African American studies, work for “social justice” or beat Lebron at his own game, but a creative artist who’s getting good grades in school yet isn’t sure if he wants to go to college, not because he doesn’t like school but because he thinks his time would be better spent writing. How frigging cool is that? And I wanted to temper any celebration of that young man because I know that as awesome as he is, likely with no circumcised harem in the background, he’s just the fringe of a much bigger, messy group that won’t assimilate as well, a group that would, on average, simply add to the problems we already have educating our own population with its racially imbalanced mix of low ability people who are going to struggle in this modern world.

But that conversation reminded me, again, of the awesome achievements our society has made because of this commitment to a diverse population with equal opportunity, achievements that I think might possibly be exclusive to…whites? England and its offspring? You don’t see a whole lot of concern for diversity or equal opportunity in Africa, Asia or South America, and it’s not all that strong in Europe, save England. And we’ve been tremendously successful over the centuries in expanding opportunity, expanding rights, and assuming that equal outcomes would follow. Who can blame people for seeing the most recent stall as a temporary setback rather than an outright limit?

It’s easy to forget that part. I often do, because lord knows the elites, in their eagerness to ignore reality in favor of an all-too-attractive delusion, are out to discredit people like me, to at best point and sputter, at worst destroy our careers.

Anyway. I confess I’m secretly proud of my little node on the network, even if nonplused by some of the company. But I will continue to identify myself primarily not as an HBDer or a member of the Dark Enlightenment, but as a teacher who has a clear sense of the problems in our current educational policy.

I think, somewhere in this typically longwinded screed, is some advice for the brethren in the neoreactionary cause (not the top dogs, but those, like me, on the lower tiers). But it would be far too condescending to spell out, and they’re a smart bunch.


Meanwhile….midterms again

I originally thought I could blog daily. Ha, ha. I managed close to that in January 2012, the first month of the blog, but it made me unhappy. Since then, I’ve usually managed an entry every five days or so. Sometimes I’d go 8-9 days after a really successful post, hiding away and watching reruns of Quantum Leap or The Mentalist, worried that I’d written my last good thing.

But this gap is more like the two-week plus hiatus I had in April of last year, when I spent most of a month working on a piece (under my real name). When I’d finally finished, I couldn’t even think of a thing to write about for a week or more. And so it was with my Philip K. Dick and preschool piece, which I’ve been thinking about since late December and working on for over a month. Kicked my ass, a bit. Happily, it was extremely successful—already #8 on my greatest hits list. My Twitter followers know that the piece had one fan that truly made it all worthwhile, and it kills me not to namedrop, but I won’t.

And then, midterms. My school covers a year in a semester, so we just finished the “semester” grades for the second “year”. We teach 4 block periods a day, so the kids can take 8 classes a year. Not great for test scores, since half the kids haven’t looked at the material in four months, and the other half haven’t entirely finished the courses. But it works in other ways.

One thing I noticed in my first “year” at this school: I wasn’t testing enough. In a normal schedule, I test or quiz kids every 8-10 school days, with the occasional longer gap. But in a block schedule covering a year in a semester, that’s the equivalent of testing kids every three-four weeks. Nothing terrible, but I decided I should up the pace slightly.

Except I’m teaching four classes and three preps—one of them for the first time. So I upped my quiz/test activity, thus increasing both my test creation and grading load, at the same time I was working a heavier teaching load, both in time and in preps. I work straight through from 8 to 3, in front of an audience of 35, with a brief 10 minute break at 9:30 and a half hour lunch at 12:35.

You know how teachers complain about grading, the tyranny of tests? I never have. I never even knew what they were talking about. I work fast, read fast, think fast, and I’m an insomniac. So the occasional two hour grading stint never struck me as particularly onerous. I’d generally schedule the grading session on a weekend, but if I had to grade things on a Tuesday or Wednesday every so often, I could manage easily. I pride myself on a rapid test turnaround, returning quizzes and tests within 3-4 days, a week at worst.

And suddenly, I was giving tests or quizzes to 140 students in three different subjects every week. Every time I turned around, I had a stack of tests to grade. At a modest estimation, I’ve spent 6 hours a week grading since February.

Then midterms. My geometry midterm is fifty multiple choice questions (multiple choice), my intermediate algebra 33. I have two sections of algebra, the test was four pages long. I graded it a page at a time on Sunday. Figure it took me 30 seconds a page to grade. 30*4*70 is 8400 seconds, or over two hours just to correct them. Then I had to calculate the curve and write the scores on each test, which takes another half hour or so, so three hours. And most teachers will tell you that’s a fast job.

Then my geometry test, which was five pages. I did two of them on Monday night, then just couldn’t take it any more. So Tuesday, I passed the tests out to the kids (geographically arranging them so no kid had his own test or a near neighbor’s), gave them red or blue pens, and we went through the whole test in 10 minutes. The kids loved the activity, were scrupulously exact, and asked why we didn’t grade tests this way all the time. I told them I usually look over the tests closely to see what kind of mistakes the kids make, what areas need revisiting, and so on. But I wasn’t going to be managing that little activity on this test.

Then Pre-Calc, the test that I spent five hours building the night before I gave it, and four hours grading on Wednesday night/Thursday morning (grades due 1:30 pm on Thursday).

The next day, Friday, I gave my intermediate algebra kids a quiz, so I have seventy quizzes to grade this weekend. I also have to build a pre-calc test (polynomials) and a geometry quiz (similar triangles).

I am not whining. Were I teaching a normal schedule this work would be entirely manageable. The longer day itself exhausted me for all of February, but by the first week of March I’d acclimated to the extra strain. I am getting well-compensated for the extra work, if you assume my normal salary is adequate, and I do. I get a 33% bump for the extra class.

But I finally know what teachers are talking about when they complain about the workload. It took an extra class and a concentrated effort on my part to assess my kids more regularly to get me to the point that many teachers reach on a normal schedule. Given that I’ve always had an inordinate ability to work long hours and do a lot of work without noticing (I worked full-time through all three of my degrees), I figure that I’m odd and the rest of teachers aren’t lazy.

Meanwhile, I’m beat.

Random notes on the classes:

Geometry: my most difficult class, academically speaking, since it’s a 10-12 class. Six kids are probably bored, because I can’t give them enough to do—the bottom half of the class is not unmanageable, but I can’t leave them unattended for too long without havoc ensuing. But they’re learning despite themselves, and the algebra progress is extraordinary. The kids right out of the top 6 but above the halfway mark are appropriately challenged, I think, and doing well. But I rarely feel good about the class.

On the other hand, last week, right at the time I was feeling really low, I gave the kids a worksheet (looked something like this, with a wider range of difficulty). I told them their task was twofold: 1) use what they knew about isosceles and equilateral triangles and 2) most importantly, build on the diagram, using what they knew, to solve for x. The second part, I said, was incredibly important. They couldn’t just look at the diagram and create an equation. They had to take the given information and work forward. The equation might be two or three steps away. I was not hopeful. And glory be, the kids surprised me by doing a bangup job—the weakest kids finished at least half the handout without begging for help every second. So I must have instructed them well! Need to remember what I said. Midterm performance: exceptional. They averaged 81% on the midterm (with a 15 point curve), and even the weaker kids did a great job on a long test.

Intermediate Algebra class: Having spent too long last “year” on linear equations, I used the same amount of time to cover linear equations, inequalities, and absolute values. We’re now wrapping up quadratics. Now that I’ve kicked linear equations and inequalities into submission, I’m struck by how damn complicated quadratics are. They don’t easily model. They have multiple forms and multiple methods of solving, all of which are complicated. But these kids, too, are doing well. Midterm: average 73% with almost no curve.

Precalc: longer post coming, eventually. Fun class. Midterm average was 69%. I have about 5 kids who simply do not understand the material, and I’m a tougher grader at the precalc level.

I was going to write this post first, but I’d seen one too many wails about American Indian Public Charter High, so I got back into it with a bang.


American Indian Public Charters: What Word Are You Forgetting, People?

Please, spare the world any more bleats about the dreadful injustice committed by revoking American Indian Public Charter High School’s charter.

Andrew Coulson:

In a 2011 study, I found that AIM is the highest-performing charter school network in the state, by a wide margin. That is after controlling for student characteristics and schoolwide peer effects.

Low-income black and Hispanic AIM students actually outperform the statewide averages for wealthier whites and Asians. AIM even outperforms Lowell, one of San Francisco’s most respected and academically selective high schools.

AIM’s overwhelmingly low-income and minority graduates regularly attend colleges such as UC Berkeley, Stanford and MIT. The college acceptance rate is 100 percent.

Adam Emerson, Gadfly:

The school’s success and continued promise ought to transcend the failings of its leadership. Therefore, the American Indian board ought to set aside its pettiness and hubris and appeal the revocation so that the Bay Area’s poorest and most underserved children can have a shot at a school that has stood for years at the top of California’s performance rankings.

John Stossel:

Chavis’ schools take kids from the poorest neighborhoods.

So what does the education Blob decide to do? Shut his schools down.

Jay Mathews:

The students enroll in Advanced Placement courses in the ninth grade and eventually take more of those college-level classes and exams per student than any high school in the Washington area. In their white shirts and dark slacks and skirts, the 243 students bustle around their little campus. Eighty-one percent of them are from low-income families, but their AP test-passing rate of 41 percent is higher than any D.C. school except Wilson and the School Without Walls, which have mostly middle-class students.

[buried several paragraphs below:]

Oakland should sue Chavis if it has a case, but it should also celebrate the American Indian schools and encourage their growth. They were named in honor of Native Americans but have few such students. The enrollment is mostly Asian, with significant numbers of Hispanics and blacks, all of them wanting better schools.

Well, at least Jay mentions the ethnicity issue. Everyone else wailing about the school–a school in Oakland—deliberately leaves off the fact that the school is upwards of 60% Asian, and has become increasingly Asian every year. (Cite)

But not just Asian, dear reader. Chinese!!

Of the 106 Asians tested at the high school in 2012, the school has one lonely Korean and Indian kid (each, not a hybrid), ten Vietnamese, and NINETY FIVE Chinese.

Say “Oakland” and most people think “black”. Now, that association is getting closer to wrong every year—Hispanics, white gentrifiers and Asians have been chipping away at the black majority population in the city for a decade or more. Still, African Americans are Oakland’s largest population by a whisker.

Any reasonable person who isn’t automatically skeptical of any education miracle would assume from the aggravated bleats that the AIPCS kids achieving these amazing test scores were predominantly black and Hispanic—and hey, maybe even one or two American Indians might be in the mix, too. Do NOT pretend otherwise, since that pretense is precisely what irritates me and I’m on a rant.

How many blacks are taught at AIPCS? 19. In most categories, not enough students test to get an actual score report (which is withheld for 10 students or less) . How many Hispanics? 39—in most categories, barely enough to hit the 10 student qualifier. (So much for Jay’s “significant numbers”.)

So this school doing God’s work raising poverty-stricken kids out of illiteracy in a plurality-black city isn’t teaching enough blacks to register on the radar. It’s an Asian school, dammit.

Do AIPCSH blacks and Hispanics do better than the average for California whites? Well, for the groups large enough to break the 10-student reporting basement, yes.

But Ed, you say, if they are doing good work helping blacks and Hispanics achieve, why are you so annoyed? Sure, the school’s advocates are, er, letting people make bogus assumptions about the school’s population. But no matter how few blacks and Hispanics actually go to a school famous for helping “poverty-stricken kids in Oakland”, the ones who do go are getting a great education that helps them achieve far more than they would otherwise.

Ah, sez I, that brings up another point. From the earliest days of the schools’ success, many have whispered or even alleged openly that the schools require test scores for admissions, in open violation of the law.

Of course the school is skimming. I’m stunned one of the school’s many detractors hasn’t pointed out that American Indian Public Charter High School doesn’t offer algebra.

So the school is just randomly accepting all the students who walk in the door and they all just happen to have passed algebra already?

In the entire state, economically disadvantaged or not, 68% more freshmen take algebra than take geometry. Black disadvantaged freshmen are over three times more likely to be taking algebra than geometry; Hispanic disadvantaged freshmen over twice as likely. And for all these years, AIPCHS has just gotten lucky that everyone they accepted, in an open door policy without a lottery, has taken algebra already?

Anyone who believes that is ignorant. Certainly, some charters openly brag that they start all freshmen in geometry, pretending that the weaker kids just need a little extra tutoring to catch up , but their test scores will clearly demonstrate reality (“Waiting for Superman”‘s Summit Preparatory Charter may tell the world all freshmen take geometry, but state tests show clearly that all but a few are taking algebra—when it tried to actually teach and test all kids in geometry, the results were dismal.)

Benjamin Chavis and his successors have not only been cherrypicking by ethnicity, but also in some way setting extremely high test score basements, which violates the law the charter is supposed to live by.

Hell, given the other egregious financial improprieties the management has committed on a routine basis, only a fool would bet against the possibility of yearly erasure parties held just to ice the cake of those scores.

Education reformers are very Malcolm X about charter school results. So I know that Coulson, Stossel and the rest of the bleaters , faced with the accusation that they have egregiously and probably willfully misrepresented AIPC’s achievement, will say something to the effect of “So what? Who cares if they skimming the cream? Who cares if their attrition rate is 60-70%? The bright kids of Oakland need to be saved from the hell of their local schools. Whatever works. Besides, what kind of racist are you to imply that a mostly Asian school would automatically have higher test scores?”

As to the first, we can argue all day as to whether it’s appropriate to use public dollars to allow a few lucky kids (bright or not) to escape the pandemonium created not by lousy administrators and incompetent teachers but the critical mass of low ability kids bored and frustrated by an education that has no meaning for them. In this case, however, the bleaters are not arguing openly for a haven to escape the legal requirements imposed by public school law, but rather for school they say offers educational excellence. But AIPCS achieved that excellence not by teaching low ability kids to succeed, but by skimming based on ability and ethnicity—and then, of course, bragged about their outstanding outcomes while slamming the local public schools.

Don’t lie about the school’s achievements. I find it very hard to believe that Andrew Coulson did not knowingly omit the fact, in both his op ed and his study, that the kids are mostly Asian in the hopes that everyone would think Chavis et al were achieving miracles with black and Hispanic kids. (Stossel, on the other hand, might just be that ignorant. He rarely cares about the finer details.)

As to the second, oh, please. Give it a rest.


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.