Tag Archives: Dylan Matthews

Jason Richwine and Goring the Media’s Ox

I first ran into Jason Richwine’s name while writing part one and part two of Teacher Quality Pseudofacts, and I know this because I had to keep referring to the study to get the names right. Was it Weinrich and Biggs? Bigwine and Rich? Bigrich and Wein? Very confusing.

My two-parter was dedicated to the argument that Richwine’s study was complete crap. Richwine and Biggs ignored the well-documented difference between secondary content teachers and elementary school teachers. Then they confused “teachers” with “ed school majors”, when fewer than half of undergraduate education majors become teachers. Finally, the study largely ignored credential data, which would have allowed them to focus on actual teachers—a group with a much higher SAT scores than education majors. And all those objections leave aside the fact that teaching success is, believe it or not, at best marginally linked to teacher intelligence.

So I was familiar with Richwine, and once you’ve memorized the name, it’s hard to miss. I distinctly remember reading his Room for Debate piece, arguing that teachers are getting paid more than their cognitive skills warrant. He wrote much the same thing in the Washington Post, where he got a whole live chat segment (“Many organizations use IQ tests, most notably the U.S. military, to make employment decisions.”) He and his co-authors chastised Arne Duncan in The Huffington Post (and also Education Week) for not understanding that “the wage penalty disappears when teachers and non-teachers are compared using objective measures of cognitive ability”. Then he was arguing in The Atlantic against a teacher bar exam and extensive teacher training because “Smart students on the fence about whether they want to become teachers will likely choose the math and science courses (which have broad labor market value) rather than wasting time on education courses (which have value only if they pursue teaching).”–but then concedes that IQ doesn’t seem to be all that linked to teaching.

And in all this time, no journalist ever wondered “Gee, I wonder if one of the authors of this study focusing on teacher cognitive ability, which we’re giving an avalanche of unquestioning coverage to, has any ideas on IQ we might find really offensive.”

But of course, Richwine’s dissertation was a complete secret. Oh, wait. No, it wasn’t. He wrote an article summarizing his dissertation, “Dealing with Diversity the Smart Way”:

I intend to focus on one such important characteristic—how smart the immigrants are…. IQ, a construct that psychologists use to estimate general intelligence, has been separately linked to elements of social capital…It is time to bring the IQ-social capital link out of the academic journals and into the policy debate. Doing so could help us deal realistically with the problems Putnam has identified.

He wrote this article for AEI, where it was completely ignored. Oh, wait. No, it wasn’t. The NY Times wrote approvingly of the article in its “Idea of the Day” blog:

Now, exploring Putnam’s work in The American, Jason Richwine, who encountered the professor while a student at Harvard, has a suggestion for managing the immigration driving so much diversity: screen to admit smarter immigrants, since evidence suggests higher-I.Q. people are more inclined to “sophisticated ethical thinking, altruism, planning for the future, political awareness, adherence to informal community standards of behavior, and cooperation for the greater good.”

Of course, the Heritage Foundation had no idea that Jason Richwine was interested in IQ. Well, hang on. Richwine wrote a piece for its magazine opposing the diversity lottery visa, clearly referencing his earlier work. It even gets a footnote.

Maybe this was just the first time Richwine came out against Hispanic immigrant success in the mainstream media. Nope, here he is in the Dallas Morning News, “Latino immigrants are not on path to economic parity”:

Though we want to believe Hispanics are on the old European path to economic assimilation, the evidence does not support our desires. This fact becomes more undeniable with each new data set collected and each new analysis performed, but prominent commentators are still seduced by wishful thinking.

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.)

So Jason Richwine’s interest in Hispanics, immigration, and cognitive ability has all been well-documented in major publications since his dissertation, although only Dave Weigel (see below) and Garance Franke-Ruta have pointed this out. Nonetheless, Richwine’s dissertation appears to come as a complete shock to most journalists and policy wonks. (Apparently, the Internet’s memory is a black box they don’t know how to crack.)

But even more strangely, his dissertation seems to have shocked and dumbfounded his dissertation panel. George Borjas has been telling everyone who asks and some who didn’t that he’s got no truck with this IQ nonsense:

“I have never worked on anything even remotely related to IQ, so don’t really know what to think about the relation between IQ, immigration, etc….So I just think that, on the whole, the focus on IQ is a bit misguided.”

Richard Zeckhauser, also on the dissertation committee, told Dave Weigel in the same article:

“In my estimation, our School gives too much emphasis on moving from findings to policy implications in scholarly work…In many cases, merely presenting the facts would be a preferable way to go. That makes it much harder for one’s opponents to dismiss what you say, or to accuse you of manipulating facts to reach policy conclusions…. If one complements one’s empirical assessments with values issues, those assessments get questioned, particularly if one addresses a controversial realm of policy, as Richwine surely did in his dissertation.”

Christopher Jencks, the third man, asked if he had any comment on his approval: The Nation: “Nope. But thanks for asking.”

Okay, I’ve never been to Harvard, nor have I ever gotten a PhD. But surely the dissertation committee actually reads the dissertation?

Weigel doesn’t ask either Borjas or Zeckhauser the obvious followup questions. In fact, he obediently quotes Zeckhauser’s disdain about Richwine’s subsequent work without asking Zeckhauser what problems he had, if any, with the dissertation he signed off on. Nor does he ask Borjas why, if he had no interest in nor understanding of IQ, he was on Richwine’s dissertation committee. But then, Weigel’s weird article has all sorts of oddities for a supposedly reported piece. Richwine’s “friends and advisers saw this coming”, but the advisers make no mention of their prescience in the article and Weigel doesn’t mention a single friend, on or off the record. ?

Speaking of odd, Dylan Matthews, the Wonkblogger credited with the kill, never apparently googled Richwine, because he mentions none of the information above. Presumably someone just sent him the dissertation, although it’s even funnier to think of Matthews “working” his sources at Harvard to dig up information a simple search would have provided, including an article that would have discredited Heritage’s hasty disavowal.

But the more interesting question is why Matthews only now noticed Richwine’s heresy. After all, Matthews has blogged quite a bit about teacher quality, so you’d think he’d have run across Richwine before, and been eager to discredit a racist who obsessed about IQs. But then, Matthews has been notoriously unsympathetic to teacher unions, declaring during the CTU strikes that teacher strikes hurt student achievement, celebrating TFA’s apparently superior performance over traditionally educated teachers, and writing in favor of teacher merit pay. He’s also a big fan of Raj Chetty’s work, which I’ve discussed (and dismissed) here (the Chetty paper seems to create a clear divide between the Wows and the So What’s—here’s Kevin Drum, also on the So What? side).

Meanwhile, Dylan Matthews has been in favor of immigration and amnesty a long time (he was apparently a pre-pubescent blogger), and despite being against open borders as a teenager, he’s all for it, now. He wrote this article boosting Hispanic assimilation, without apparently ever coming across Richwine’s arguments to the contrary.

Hey, if Dave Weigel can make unsupported assertions, I can, too, although I will qualify: it seems that Dylan Matthews went out looking for opposition ammunition to bring down Jason Richwine because his own favorite ox was being gored. Given the gift of the dissertation, he did no further research to find Richwine’s well-documented articles in this area, which is why he allowed Heritage to skate by with a denial that’s close to an outright lie. Matthews paid no attention to Jason Richwine’s open discussion of IQ when it involved teacher quality and merit pay, causes Matthews openly advocates for.

And once he brings up the dissertation, all the other journalists and immigration advocates (these are not, sadly, distinct groups) jump on the news and repeat it avidly, pointing and sputtering, as Steve Sailer says, without doing the tiniest bit of reporting (with the aforementioned exceptions), obediently repeating the canard that Richwine “asserts” that Hispanics have, on average, a lower IQ than whites when it’s a well-established fact, not something he dreamed up as part of his research. Nor has anyone in the media seriously pursued the cognitive dissonance found in the story of “Richwine the racist” writing his “Harvard PHd dissertation on Hispanic inferiority”. I think only a Daily Kos blogger has pursued the obvious point for anyone genuinely outraged about Richwine’s IQ research: If this research is so obviously beyond the pale, if Richwine is “asserting” (rather than repeating established science) that Hispanic IQs are lower on average than white IQs, why on earth is Harvard and its trio of distinguished advisers giving this dissertation writer its approval and a PhD?

So if I were to interpret this pattern of behavior, I’d say that the mainstream media has no interest in pursuing that point. Presumably, the media isn’t interested in bringing down Harvard–hell, these days, most opinion-makers are alumni. They aren’t interested in stopping IQ research. They just want the issue to bring down opposition to immigration reform. Then they’ll go back to “hands off” on IQ, ignoring it completely until they need to bring it up to bring someone down. In this way the Word is maintained, and all those who challenge it can be brought down when the time is ripe.

So Richwine can talk about IQ and mostly white teachers and it’s fine, because many prominent journalists these days are elitists who secretly think our schools would be better off with a more intellectual teaching pool. He can be forgiven for assuming that the media had gotten a lot cooler with cognitive ability, when in fact he wasn’t in any real danger until he took the wrong side of a cause it cared about.

And that lesson resonates tremendously. I just wrote with some pride that more than a few reporters follow my writing. I do not for a moment imagine they agree with me on everything, or even anything, but I’m not important enough to follow for the news value, so surely they must see something worthwhile in my writing? I think? So Jason Richwine’s saga makes me very, very nervous. I maintain at best a loose anonymity; anyone who wants to find out who I am can do so. I am not good at worrying; no matter how many times I say I worry about being outed and fired, I really don’t act like it. But after this, I can all too easily envision being noticed, through some fluke of attention, by the national media, and having someone with too much time and a big, ungainly ox whining over a wound deciding to out me. And then follow headlines like “Ed Real has been writing about race and IQ for a year or more”, probably written, with wholly dispassionate disapproval, by the same reporters who follow me. Worse, maybe, by reporters who don’t follow me but who are tipped off by those who do (“Hey, I can’t use this but here’s some good stuff!”).

If I am cynical, it’s adequate to the occasion. Not enough to stop me writing, though, because I’ve had a genuinely fantastic year as both a writer and a teacher, and that’s too much fun to give up. So take all my professions of concern with some salt.

But there’s one other point worth mentioning, and it’s this: we simply don’t talk enough about the impact of immigration on our schools. Hundreds of schools throughout the nation are 70% or more Hispanic; the majority of the students children of immigrants or immigrants themselves, a substantial number of which are illegal. Dozens of schools throughout the nation are 80% or more Asian, hundreds more top 40%, even though the Asian population nationwide is just 4.8%.

For all the reform and progressive bleats about our failing schools, Asians, Africans, and even Latin Americans see the American education system as a big draw. So they come here in huge numbers, and the communities that absorb them are forced to spend far more on education than they otherwise would. Immigrants often utterly transform a school district; cultural values and language problems are just two of the onslaught of issues that schools are forced to deal with, certain of little support and lots of blame. And while the administrators and teachers let loose to talk about the issues are usually full of happy talk, the original community as a whole is rarely pleased—and if you scratch beneath the surface, you’ll always find teachers who are dismayed by the changes.

I don’t have to link these stories in; everyone knows what I’m talking about. The concern and unhappiness is always presented as racist, the immigrants as adorable, hardworking, and confused by societal requirements imposed by a country they mostly came to for money, and the folks who have a job building up services (at taxpayer expense, of course) are the admirable heros, working against the evil prejudices of community to help the newcomers. All the feel-good stories courtesy of the same media that ignored Richwine’s IQ research while it trumpeted his research attacking teacher intelligence, yet turned on him to tear him apart when he argued for limiting Hispanic immigration.

So here we are again, discussing amnesty and still more immigration, and no one’s asking what it will do to our schools. No one is wondering if perhaps we should charge non-citizens, legal or illegal, for a service they so clearly consider valuable, what with the Hispanic obsession about the Dream Act, the Chinese birth tourists and the Korean wild geese. No one is concerned that abysmal teen employment numbers, even more atrocious in areas with high levels of low-skilled immigrants. But everyone will be blaming the schools for failing to educate all students to the same standard, whether it’s possible or not, and for any problems that fall out of the cultural clashes that the policy wonks don’t think of when they talk about the economic benefits of generous immigration policies. (For all Jason Richwine’s concern about low IQ immigrants, he doesn’t seem interested in their impact on American education, and still seems ready to blame teachers for the outcomes. Since I’m on the topic of cognitive dissonance.)

I want to stress this to any of my students, past, present, or future, many of whom are recent immigrants, who might stumble across this blog (along with WHY ARE YOU READING THIS WHEN YOU NEVER DO YOUR HOMEWORK!!!) that I don’t see any of them individually as harmful, that I wish the country had resources enough to welcome everyone who wants to come. I don’t blame any immigrants for responding to America’s open door policy. But it’s time to close the door. It’s certainly not time to open the door any wider. And Americans can’t rely on the media to represent their interests, because the media’s already picked the other side.