In the Interim, Your Thoughts?

Sometimes the pauses between my essays isn’t confidence freeze, but actual busy-ness. Other times, I am just researching or mulling. This pause has been a combination of the above, plus I’ve been doing a lot of reading today, preparing for what I hope will be the next essay.

In the meantime, I thought I’d throw out the things I’m thinking about and see if anyone has any thoughts or links that might be interesting. Because even though I don’t always respond to my commenters, I read them and mull.

  • Why Private Schools are Dying Out—this is, in fact, what I’m working on a response to. If you routinely follow my blog, you can probably predict my response, but anyone just showing up, you may want to check out The Parental Diversity Dilemma, Why Charters Skim, and Why They Should Stop, Charter Hypocrisy, Diversity Dilemma in Action. If anyone has any links or interesting article about education reform in the early-mid 90s, I’d love to hear about them.
  • Teacher Intellectual Property–and here I don’t mean the Teachers Paying Teachers aspect, but the larger point—specifically, what is a teacher’s job?
  • Geometry topic sequencing and maybe something about this article. Yeah, I know that my non-teacher population is thrilled with this one. But I have been sequencing my geometry in what appears to be a unique way, and I want to talk about it. So if you have opinions on the fact that special right triangles and right triangle trig are actually forms of similar triangles and can all be taught in that sequence, let me know so I can at least say I’m not unique.
  • The current irritating eduformer meme arguing that school districts are “creaming by geography”, as a way of striking back at the charter school creaming charge.
  • My Philip K. Dick article, which is the first serious challenger to Algebra and the Pointlessness of the Whole Damn Thing as my most-read post, mentioned that I would leave my ideas for high school for later. I would like to get back to that, and figure if I put that desire down on blog, it might up the odds.

Not sure all of these will make it to a post, but those are my current mullings. If you have thoughts or any other questions/comments, put them in comments or if you want to email—is there not a link on the blog somewhere? I should check—my email is the blog name at gmail.

One other thing, sparked by Steve Sailer’s recent donations drive and my discovery that my US web audience is predominantly high income males without kids: would anyone be interested in a Donate button? I can promise only that I will spend the money on sushi, cheap student white board markers, and more expensive beer. Well, maybe pool some of it into a savings fund that will make me feel braver about taking the summer off, instead of working as I’m currently planning. Feel free to shout “HELL, NO!” in the comments; my feelings won’t be hurt. I’m more interested in the possibility that people are thinking gosh, if Ed would just post a link, I’d send cash.

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22 responses to “In the Interim, Your Thoughts?

  • tim-10-ber

    speaking of the ’90s reformers…have you read Thinking for a Living by Marc Tucker and Ray Marshall. Marc Tucker continues writing today…would love your reactions to his writings…like the blog…please keep it up!

    • educationrealist

      I’m not an expert, but while I’m very hopeful that lead poisoning plays some part in low IQs, it doesn’t explain the gap. Unless somehow middle class blacks get more exposure than poor whites.

    • Pincher Martin

      Any theory blaming low average IQs on lead has to deal with the fact that much of East Asia still has high levels of lead poisoning, and it doesn’t seem to have lowered their average IQ. Just google China for a recent example.

      That’s something neither Nevin nor Drum attempts to deal with. Instead, Nevin makes a crude international comparison of trends in the U.S. with other Western countries, many of which are Anglophone (Australia, Canada, Britain, etc.). Drum just takes Nevin’s lead and doesn’t ask any tough questions.

      Nevin should have chosen non-Western countries that were late to implement environmental regulations against lead. Much of Asia, for example, didn’t phase out leaded gasoline until 2000. Japan stands out as a stark exception. It was among the first countries in the world to ban leaded gas. But even Japan’s development doesn’t show any similarities to the social and educational trends in the West that Nevin and Drum speculate might have been caused by lead.

      If anything, Japan’s crime rate was lower and its test scores more impressive back in the days of leaded gasoline than they are today. Nowadays, the test scores for Japanese students are often among the lowest in East Asia (although still very impressive), even though the country was usually far ahead of other East Asian countries in implementing commonsense environmental regulations because it was the first to industrialize.

      • educationrealist

        Wow, I wasn’t thinking of things like unleaded gasoline but eating paint chips in old houses.

        In any event, my sense (and you read up on this far more than I do, Pincher) is that lead is one of the environmental hazards that can affect IQ, but not in the way that would explain the achievement gap.

      • Pincher Martin

        “[M]y sense … is that lead is one of the environmental hazards that can affect IQ, but not in the way that would explain the achievement gap.”

        Exactly.

        I’m sure there are many cases of lead poisoning lowering the IQ of individuals and in extreme cases whole communities. But the notion that it can explain the white/black IQ gap, when those two populations are spread across the continent (and, indeed, the globe), and the gap is approximately one standard deviation, is far-fetched.

        The gap is simply too large and persistent to be explained by a single environmental variable – especially one we’ve known is dangerous for such a long time.

  • Hattie

    @Pincher Martin:

    “Any theory blaming low average IQs on lead has to deal with the fact that much of East Asia still has high levels of lead poisoning, and it doesn’t seem to have lowered their average IQ. Just google China for a recent example.”

    But how much can we trust the figures on IQ coming from Asia? Come to think of it, what *are* the figures coming from East Asia? I’ve heard enough kvetching from my statistically minded friends on Chinese test scores to think it’s an open question.

    • Pincher Martin

      Hattie,

      “But how much can we trust the figures on IQ coming from Asia?”

      It depends on the country. For China, I wouldn’t put much trust in the figures at all. I’m sure those Shanghai PISA scores, which I linked to above, are not at all indicative of what we would find in the rest of the country. They’re probably not even indicative of Shanghai. For other Asian countries, like Singapore and Japan, I would put no less trust in their figures than I do in ours.

      But this isn’t a question that requires fine tuning the scores. The matter before us is whether lead poisoning could cause a widespread drop in IQ that was dramatic enough to explain the white/black IQ gap which spans the continental United States.

      If that was true, I would expect to see some evidence of it in East Asia. At one time or another over the last fifty years, Japan, South Korea, China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Singapore all had significantly greater environmental problems, including exposure to lead, than were found in the West. Most still do. These countries single-mindedly focus(ed) on industrialization to the exclusion of almost anything else. Worker safety, consumer protection, and environmental regulation just weren’t on their agenda.

      So we should see some evidence of Nevin’s lead thesis in that region. And I see none. I’ve never seen any IQ test or international scholastic achievement test that places those countries’ students significantly below the white IQ average, and I’ve seen several that place them noticeably above the white average. And the immigrants that come here certainly don’t show any evidence of it in our schools.

      “Come to think of it, what *are* the figures coming from East Asia? I’ve heard enough kvetching from my statistically minded friends on Chinese test scores to think it’s an open question.”

      I wouldn’t place too much faith in them. The average IQ in the East Asian countries I listed above is perhaps a little higher than what is found in Western Europe and among white Americans. That’s the consensus, and I would agree with it.

      But even if you don’t agree, why does it matter in this case? True or not, it’s a much smaller difference than what is found between blacks and whites. What’s critical to note is that there’s no evidence of a black-like depression in IQ scores in East Asian populations, despite their heavy exposure to lead.

    • Pincher Martin

      Here’s a WHO report from 2000 that shows the average level of lead in the blood for several countries.

      “In the USA between 1976 and 1991 the mean blood lead level of persons aged 1–74 years dropped by 78%, from 12.8 mg/dl to 2.8 mg/dl. Mean blood lead levels of children aged 1–5 years declined by 77% (from 13.7 mg/dl to 3.2 mg/dl) for non- Hispanic white children and by 72% (from 20.2 mg/dl to 5.6 mg/dl) for non-Hispanic black children.”

      Okay, so there was a persistent difference in blood lead levels between black and white children.

      But let’s put that in international perspective:

      “In China, childhood lead poisoning may be widespread as a result of rapid industrialization and the use of leaded petrol. Children residing in industrial areas and in areas with heavy traffic had average blood lead levels of 21.8–67.9 mg/dl. The proportion of blood lead levels > 10 mg/dl ranged from 64.9% to 99.5%. Even about 50% of children living in non-industrialized areas had blood lead values >10 mg/dl (48). There is also evidence of an increase in blood lead levels among non-smoking women between 1983 and 1998, associated with a rapid increase in the number of motor vehicles. The problem of lead exposure in children is particularly significant in small towns with numerous small factories.”

      To put that in perspective, Chinese kids in the mid-nineties had three times the level of lead in their blood as did African-American kids in the mid-seventies, and that at least two-thirds had unsafe levels of lead in their blood, according to US standards (> 10 mg/dl).

      I guess we should infer from that information that Chinese kids are dumb and prone to violence. But that doesn’t seem to fit the stereotype, does it?

  • Jim

    Some areas of Mexico have some of the highest population blood levels of lead that have been measured. So these areas might be a good place to look for the effects of lead on mental functioning. A study done some years ago in Sweden on workers in lead smelters who had high blood lead levels failed to come up with any significant effect of the high lead exposure. However neurological effects of lead exposure might be primarily due to fetal or neonatal exposure so wouldn’t show up in a study of lead smelter workers whose exposure even if over a long period of time was as adults.

  • Tim

    I’d say go for it with the donate button. It’s certainly no worse than putting down a hat for a fiddle performance on the street. If you’re doing something and people like it, it follows you should give them a way to show their appreciation. I’m never offended by bloggers that have them unless they constantly mention it, then it can quickly become irritating like a mime who pretends to take your wallet and drop money in his hat.

  • Jim

    There is a gap between rural and urban IQ almost everywhere in the world. This is usually attributed to out migration of higher IQ individuals from rural areas to cities. A high IQ kid from the hills of West Virginia who manages to get into Harvard Law School doesn’t return to his hometown but winds up in Manhattan working at a prestigious law firm.
    Presumably this general pattern would probably hold for US blacks.

  • Jim

    Why would it be likely that East Asians or Ashkenazi Jews living in the US would have unusually low exposure to lead? Both groups have substantially higher average IQ’s than the US average.

  • Florida resident

    Not that I am “interested in a Donate button”, but I would consider it.
    Your F.r.

  • JSW

    I would gladly donate something.

  • D Michaels

    Private education isn’t dying out, it’s just realigning with the increasing stratification of American society. Private education that catered to the middle class, mainly as a way of preventing middle class students from befriending lower class delinquents, is vanishing along with the middle. In the future, there will only be the wealthy and the welfare class, and private education will cater exclusively to the former, while charter schools cherry pick from the former in order to cultivate the illusion that they help their students transcend their background.

    As for the job of the teacher, it’s the same job as that of a race car driver, to make the car he drives go as fast as it possibly can. In the current system, this is unfeasible for most teachers, as low performing students are discouraged by the presence of high performing students, and high performing students become lazy, arrogant and unmotivated when surrounded by half wits.

    One further role of the teacher that is explicit in Japan but implicit in America is that of shaping students to fit in with the rest of the society. Here, I believe, is where America has done a poor job with its low IQ subset. We have a whole race of people with better people and sales skills than the white majority and we waste all of our resources pretending they can be engineers and computer geniuses instead of utilizing the inherent strengths of African Americans.

    • Florida resident

      Dear D Michaels:
      Can you kindly elaborate, what exactly are
      “the inherent strengths of African Americans” ?
      I am asking this technical (in terms of sociology) question without prejudice,
      and with sincere desire to learn your opinion.
      Respectfully yours, F.r.

  • Thea Nelson

    Although the article emphasized higher education, private k – 12 education is flourishing in some areas. Houston has more than 300 private school. Although the cost is up, and the recession appeared to hurt a few school several years ago, today many of the schools are turning away students.
    Houston has no zoning. What this means is no matter how expensive or exclusive your neighborhood, the school is usually a multi-cultural, muti-racial, muti- SES mix of students. The homogeneous school are out in the suburbs.
    If a school is homogeneous there are only a few parents who figure it is worth it to send their child to a private school. It is a large mix of students that often causes dissatisfaction. A child with LDs, a bright child in a low performing school, or a shy, quiet child often gives parents the incentive to look for a school with a better fit. This fit may be a smaller class size, a more challenging curriculum, or a place where bullying is halted before it harms.
    If private schools in other places are having problems look at the economy, or the academic mix of students in a school. The reality is most of the US is segregated by SES and parents feel comfortable with their local school. Charter, private schools, and home schooling is an alternative when parents believe their child isn’t in a safe environment, isn’t being challenged, or their education needs aren’t being met. It doesn’t have to be the reality, just the belief.
    I went to public schools from K through college. My son went to private schools K through college. That wasn’t the plan and we aren’t wealthy, but he had lots of school options living in Houston. As a society we obviously need public education. As a parent I am grateful that I lived in an area with so many opportunities to give my child a safe, responsive, excellent education. As the cost of such schools goes up I think we will soon find only the wealthy in private education, while the middle class parent will be struggling with a long commute and the house payment in a “good” suburb.

  • Teacher Appreciation | educationrealist

    […] little over a year ago, I sketched out some ideas I was mulling for the summer. The […]

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