SCHOOL FOR THOUGHT
There has been a great deal of nature/nurture discussion on this blog lately. I propose to kick off a week-long discussion topic regarding the heritability of IQ, the intractibility of socio-economic status, and how much schools can do. As a discussion starting point, here is an excerpt (pp 196-198) from Intelligence and How to Get It: Why schools and cultures count by Richard E. Nisbett, distinguished university professor at the University of Michigan.
"The received opinion about the relationship between social class and intelligence is that intelligence, which is largely inherited, drives social class. Smarter people have better genes so they are destined to rise in society, whereas less smart people have worse genes so they are destined to fall. It is true that intelligence is partially heritable, and more intelligent people on average will be of a higher social class in virtue of their greater inherited intelligence. But I believe that the role of genetic inheritance in determining social class is fairly small. The difference between the average IQ of the children of the lower third of the socioeconomic status (SES) distribution and the average IQ of the children of the upper third is about 10 points. We know that some of this is due to biological but not genetic factors, including exercise, breast-feeding, and exposure to alcohol or cigarette smoke, as well as hazardous chemicals and pollution. And some of it is due to the disruption in schools of lower-SES children and to the fact that peers are pulling intelligence mostly in a down direction. We also know that socialization in lower-SES homes is not optimal for developing either IQ or school readiness. Moreover, a child born into roughly the bottom sixth of the SES distribution will have an IQ 12 to 18 points higher if raised by parents from roughly the top quarter of the SES distribution. All of this does not leave much room for genes in the social-class equation. I do not doubt that genes play a role, but I would be surprised to find that the differences in inherrent genetic potential of the social classes are very great. Certainly much if not most of the 10 points separating the average of the children of the lower third and the average of the children of the upper third is environmental in origin.
"For the race difference in IQ, we can be confident that genes play no role at all. Most of the evidence offered for a genetic component to the race difference is indirect and readilly refuted. Virtually all of the direct evidence, which is due mostly to the natural experiment resulting from the fact that American 'blacks' range from being completely African to largely European in heritage, indicates no genetic difference at all with respect to IQ. And the difference between the races in both IQ and academic achievement is being reduced ath the rate of about one-third of a standard deviation per generation. The IQ of the average black is now greater than that of the average white in 1950.
"The No Child Left Behind Act demands that the difference in academic achievement between the classes and between the races be erased in half a generation by the schools alone. This is absurd. It ignores the fact that class and race differences begin in early infancy and have as much to do with economic factors and neighborhood and cultural differences as with schools.
"That is the bad news about gap reduction. The good news is that big improvements in IQ and academic achievement for lower-SES and minority children are possible. And we know at least the outlines of what those improvements look like, Half-measures have been tried and are not going to make a lot of difference. We need intensive early childhood education for the poor, and we need home visitation to teach parents how to encourage intellectual development. Such efforts can produce huge immediate gains in IQ and enormous long-term gains in academic achievement and occupational attainment. Highly ambitious elementary, junior high, and high school programs can also produce massive gains in academic achievement. And a variety of simple, cost-free interventions, including, most notably, simply convincing students that their intelligence is under their control to a substantial extent, can make a big difference to academic achievement.
"Believing that intelligence is under your control - and having parents who demand achievement - can do wonders. At any rate that has been true for Asians and Jews. There is no reliable evidence of a genetic difference in intelligence between people of East Asian descent and people of European descent. In fact, there is little difference in intelligence between the two groups as measured by IQ tests. Some evidence indicates that East Asians start school with lower IQs than do white Americans. After a few years of school this difference seems to disappear. But the academic achievement of East Asians - especially in math and the sciences, where effort counts for a lot - is light-years beyond that of European Americans. Americans of East Asian extraction also differ lilttle in IQ from European Americans. In any case, the academic achievement and occupational attainment of Asian Americans exceed by a great amount what they 'should' be accomplishing given their IQs. The explanation for the Asian/Western gap lies in hard work and persistence."
GUEST BLOG BY TOM BEREND, SQE DIRECTOR
A commenter on this site blames the poor for dragging down school performance on standardized scores. In view of the recent PISA results, it is worth looking at this correlation the other way. Our failure at teaching math in school has probably baked in another generation of poverty - they WILL be poor because we didn't teach them math.
I graduated from engineering 35 years ago and followed an entrepreneurial path - my lifetime earnings put me in the top decile. My university classmates have also been extraordinarily successful, but those who went into finance and business law did even better. Entertainers might grab high-earner headlines, but bank executives earn more than most hockey players, and we have more of them.
Parents who can afford to send their kids to tutors do so for very good reasons. Top-earning jobs require strong math. Poor math skills lock students out of almost all professional career paths and stunt their ability to start a business - the traditional paths to the highest group of incomes. And today even middle-class jobs require math.
Manufacturing requires math to set up production runs, trouble-shoot machines, and requisition materials. Supervisory jobs involve manpower, budgets and results. Nurses calculate drug doses and chart patient outcomes. Firemen calculate foaming agent ratios, volumes and distances, and hydraulics. Non-retail salesmen negotiate on price, terms, and financing while tracking costs and margins. Banks and insurance companies are among the biggest employers in Canada, but every small business has someone doing the accounting. Even drug dealers need math.
Employers don't want poor math performers in full-time positions, not even for jobs that don't currently require math. After all, job requirements change, and today's entry-level employees are future supervisors. And so recruiters demand degrees for most full-time jobs knowing that applicants don't successfully navigate college without basic math skills.
Our ineptitude at teaching math has knee-capped students who can't afford tutoring. At Toronto's Nelson Mandela, barely a quarter of Grade 6 students passed the EQAO criterion. Some of those kids might escape poverty, perhaps through sports or the arts, but our failing schools have chained most of them to a lifetime of low earnings and marginal jobs.
Here's your five-minute dose of common sense for the day. H/T DW
There's an interesting article in the latest Education Next about school boards' obligation to collect union dues through payroll deductions. Of course this seems totally normal to most people, but a moment's thought shows that this forced service has enormous monetary value to the unions. For one thing, the unions are spared huge administrative costs in terms of things like record-keeping, banking, postage, and debt collection. In addition, many teachers (the article estimates 30%) would refuse to pay their dues, leading to a crippling revenue loss.
So payroll deductions are hugely important to the unions - the article calls them an existential threat. Now some US states already have or are trying to remove them and are of course encountering fierce resistance on the part of the unions. Recently a Michigan appellate court ruled against the unions, leaving only "an appeal to the Supreme Court as the unions' last and not very promising option".
Help me out here. When it comes to other Ontario unions, are employers required to collect their dues for them?
GUEST BLOG BY FRANK GUE, SQE DIRECTOR AND RETIRED ENGINEER
The education paradigm that has produced Canadian math under-achievers, defended by the usual apologists, falls into the general heading of “progressive education”. Promoters of this educational monstrosity have applied every imaginable principle of good teaching backward, with results we skeptics have been deploring and predicting for decades. Examples:
Fiction: Rote learning must be discouraged. Fact: every human accomplishment springs from a platform of rote learning. We engineers have at our command thousands of facts, principles, figures, laws, procedures without our use of which the bridge would fall down and the 747 airplane would never have been designed, much less flown.
Fiction: The process is just as important as the right answer. Fact: The right answer is the only important result of number work. Questions such as why or explain how some process works, imposed on students routinely, are ridiculously irrelevant.
Fiction: Students are taught to try several “strategies” for the solution of numeric problems. Why bother? Humankind has spend millenia developing proven, efficient (as the apologists admitted this morning) processes for solving numeric problems. It is wasteful, counter-productive, and discouraging (to the point of students’ flowing tears) to abandon them and try some finger-diddly exercise to multiply two numbers. 6 x 7 = 42. Memorize it and know it.
The apologists airily dismiss the truism that “We stand on the shoulders of giants” and suggest that students “stand on their own shoulders”. One stands aghast, words failing; students are to “discover” (a favorite word) how to extract a square root, when it took Descartes, a math genius, years? To be stupidly literal, how does one stand on his own shoulders?
Fiction: Don’t worry if you didn’t ‘get it’. We’ll come back to it next year. Fact: For success in math (or any other subject), mastery rests on mastery, segment by segment, each understood and mastered before the next is undertaken.
Fiction: We don’t need exams. The teacher knows if the student has “passed”. Fact: Orderly preparation for tests and exams is an essential review without which principles and procedures cannot be internalized by average students. The teacher cannot know if the student has mastery because he cannot get into the student’s head. Assignments and tests are essential.
I could go on.
Clearly, the folk who designed “progressive education” have never had to be responsible for a demonstrated result, such as manufacturing something useful or meeting a payroll. They have, however, demonstrated their special result, such as producing a Grade 12 graduate who, clerking in a radio store, was unwilling even to try to count-out the customer’s 76 cents of exact change which she had laid on the counter for him.
We’d better hope that such a person is not mixing our intraveinous bag or landing our airplane.
How dare I speak this way? I am a professional engineer with two highly technical, numbers-laden degrees, one a Master’s. I have had over 60 years of technical engineering work. Asked to chair an Education committee, I studied, line by line, with rising frustration and anger, the Ontario public school curricula. Without reservation, I can state that no one taught exclusively by these methods could hope to come within a country mile of passing my exams and doing my work.
I have also encountered the implacable, entrenched resistance of the rich, powerful, influential Education establishment (“The Blob”), from the top (Ministry level) to the bottom (some practicing teachers) to reform, especially any suggestion we return to “the basics”, which has become a swear word among them.
In the interests of my blood pressure, I must stop. But I can say with passion that we know the problem and much of the solution. Increasingly, politicians and thinking educators realize that we have blown education and must find our way back to the blazed trail. Fortunately, we can see it from here. It’s just up that steep hill .....
Every year, the Ontario College of Teachers holds a three-day conference entitled Inspiring Public Confidence. Here's an article from their journal about the 2012 conference. Why in the world do you suppose the College needs to confer about inspiring public confidence? H/T DW
In Ontario, education leaders are pointing the finger at everyone but themselves for the students' poor math achievement. Instead of looking at the most obvious reasons (teaching methods and materials), for the most part education leaders are blaming the teachers and the students. more The proposed solutions to the math problem cited in this article range from pathetic to ridiculous.
Yet the answer is right under their noses - all Ontario education leaders need do is walk a few steps from the Ministry of Education or OISE over to the Fields Institute at the University of Toronto where they can learn everything they need to know from John Mighton and JUMP Math.
Other solutions abound. Here are a couple of the reader tips we have most recently received. (We get them all the time: people are concerned and they have answers.)
The excellent Direct Instruction Math (and Reading) Funnix programs can be downloaded free all this month here. H/T DY
This algebra book is available free online, and the author is offering to take one student or a group of students through the book free of charge. H/T EF
Our advice? Your children's education is up to you and it is urgent. Don't wait for spring when men and materials are available. Do it now.
Here's a well-written enjoyable history lesson by Peter C. Newman about the decline and fall of the British Navy. Of interest to education reformers is this - "The Admiral confided that the problems of trying to run an all-volunteer force were catching up with the U.S. Navy. All of its training manuals recently had to be rewritten for comprehension at a Grade 5 level." H/T GG
I'm not sure what to make of this video on foreign science students. I live near the University of Waterloo and there is no doubt that a very high percentage of students are foreign-born, especially Asian. I will leave it to you to evaluate the truth of Dr. Kaku's argument. H/T MGD