2004 September 05 Sunday
Good Schools Rated Poorly By No Child Left Behind Regulations

To meet compliance requirements of the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act schools must test 95% of their students including 95% of the students of each ethnicity and in special education due to learning disabilities. This requirement leads to top schools being rated as poorly performing.

In Westport, Conn., the Bedford Middle School, where test scores are often among Connecticut's highest, was called low-performing because the school failed to meet the 95 percent standard for testing for the disabled by one student.

"It really bugs me that we got a black eye for a mechanical reason rather than for anything legitimate," said Dr. Elliott Landon, Westport's superintendent.

Montgomery High School in Skillman, N.J., was honored by the federal Department of Education as a Blue Ribbon School of Excellence in 1993, and last year its mean SAT score of 1220 was 194 points above the national average. But Montgomery, too, failed to meet federal targets last year because one student's absence brought the school afoul of the rule requiring that 95 percent of students take standardized tests.

Imagine a grade in a small school that has, say, 20 students. Well, if one kid misses the testing day then 5% of the students did not get tested. Or if the test is administered on a day when the flu hits the absence rate could be that high.

Then there is the testing requirement per ethnicity and for the retarded kids (how politically incorrect of me not to say "learning challenged"). If a grade has 5 Hispanics then just 1 Hispanic is 20% of the Hispanics. Or if it has 4 retarded kids then 1 retarded kid is 25% of the retards.

The bigger problem with NCLB is it is basically a denial of human nature. Some kids are dumb. Some are super fast smarties. Most are in between. A school in an upper class neighborhood is going to have smarter kids on average than a school in a lower class neighborhood. It is not the fault of the teachers or administrators or even of the parents (who didn't choose their own genes after all) that the kids in the lower class school are mostly not too bright. Granted, there are drug and alcohol using and cigarette smoking moms whose treatment of their own bodies lowered their kids intelligence. But surely the cause of most low intelligence in the United States is not due to irresponsible parenting.

Teachers and schools ought to be measured on how well they do with the raw material they are given. Are the kids at an average of, say, 87 IQ? Then if the teachers manage to get the kids reading at the 9th grade level by the end of 12th grade the teachers ought to be given cash awards, medals, and congratulated by notable dignitaries. If the kids have an average IQ of 130 then the kids ought to be reading at 12th grade level by the end of 8th or 9th grade or else there is something wrong that needs fixing.

The failure to consider differences in innate cognitive abilities means the whole NCLB debate is based on a massive lie. You won't see "IQ" or "intelligence" mentioned in the vast bulk of articles about failed schools and low student test scores. The elephant is in the room, it is in plain sight, and the vast bulk of our commentariat will not mention it. What passes for education policy debate in America is intellectually bankrupt. What would Orwell make of this?

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2004 September 05 02:58 PM  Education

gcochran said at September 5, 2004 3:28 PM:

An engineer would say that we want to measure a school's transfer function - the effect schooling has on student academic achievement, taking into account entering students' ability. In principle the tranfer function might be different for students with different characteristics.

To a pretty good approximaion, over the existing range of varation, all schools have the same transfer function. All colleges have the same transfer function. There are no good schools, no bad schools, jsut good and bad students. Educational innovation, as she is practiced, consists of pushing a rope: nothing happens. As a fairly obvious corollary, there has been no significant decline - or improvement - in academic performance over the past couple of generations.

Given these facts, NCLB is having the exact effect on academic achievement that a reasonable person would expect: no effect at all. The difference between charter schools and regular public schools? No difference.

Does this mean that we can never improve academic performance? No: it means we can never do so by the means we have chosen thus far. Other approaches might work. Genetic engineering would surely work.

Randall Parker said at September 5, 2004 4:16 PM:

Greg, NCLB is doing at least one harmful thing: It is increasing education spending that does not improve the transfer function.

gcochran said at September 5, 2004 4:51 PM:

Well of course. Increases in expenditures with no resulting improvement has been the trend for decades. If by education reform you mean _cheaper_ schools that do just as well, that's easy: simply fire most of the administrators. If you mean kids that learn more, that's hard, at least using conventional approaches. Moreover, the country doesn't seem all that interested in it, if you ask me.

John S Bolton said at September 6, 2004 2:38 AM:

It should be expected that NCLB will lead to increases in interracial and inter ethnic violence and the threats of it. They have it set up where the numbers are to be reported by such classifications, and the penalties follow a lack of similarity of scores between these groups. This gives school staffs a big incentive to get any anomalous students or groups of students out of their school. To give the signal for such violence, the schools only have to conspicously tolerate it, or indirectly propagandize for it. If a school has a small percentage of higher-performing students, they will want to run them out. Never underestimate the malice of an American schoolteacher or administrator who is dedicated to progressive retardation.

Adams said at September 9, 2004 3:55 PM:

Your suggestion that kids in lower class neighborhoods are genetically predisposed to be "dumber" than kids in high class neighborhoods flies in the face of scientific evidence. The gene pool is pretty well blended in all ethnic and income groupings. You could argue that deficiencies in prenatal and early child care in poor neighborhoods cause problems, but the whole notion of the good middle class kids of good middle class people being better at birth... well, it's not what I believe this country is about!
We do need to look at problems outside the classroom, like drugs and unstable families, but this whole line of reasoning sounds like, "It's their own fault they're poor." Do some research on income mobility before claiming that that is, in fact, what is going on.
And genetic engineering? Gcochran, the Fuhrer is on the phone...

Randall Parker said at September 9, 2004 4:02 PM:


Yes, lower class people are, on average, less bright than upper class people. Since intelligence is partially controlled by genes the kids of lower class people are also, on average, less bright than the kids of upper class people.

I'm not going to ignore the overwhelming body of evidence for heritable intelligence and for intelligence's influence on level of achievement just because some people insist on believing the myth that the United States was founded on the belief that we are all born equal in ability. The Founding Fathers did not believe that. They believed we should have equal political rights but that we differed in abilities.

There is no credible evidence to support your position Adams. You ought to go read the psychometricians and see what they say.

Genetic engineering is going to be used once it becomes possible. You may oppose it. You may try to label it as Nazi. But your protestations and complaints will be ignored by the parents who want to make their kids smarter.

Michelle said at April 4, 2005 7:39 AM:

In reading the comments on the board, I have come to the realization that in fact there are to many ignorant people in the world. I am the lower class, below poverty level person you are referencing. By no means am I less intelligent that those who have had money in their lives.
I am also the mother of 2, my oldest, a beautiful 6 year baby girl whom Mr. Randall Parker has called a "retard", has gotten the help she needs and has been able to advance and pass the "normal" children in her class because of the NCLB tests performed in her school. Her reading is now above average...we are working on her math. No, I did not treat my body poorly during pregnancy nor am I a "mental midget".
Although I come from the "dumpster" of your world, my IQ score is higher than average and borderlining superior...I know for a fact that because of my social status I have learned more through life experience than any "money blessed" person in the world.
My closest friend in high-school had it all...money, beautiful 8 bedroom home, pool, private helicopter, you name it...and you know what, she turned out to be a heroin addict; selling gumball machines for a living. There are more idiots out there who have every opportunity and don't take it. So the next time you comment...try looking into the rich kids who are stupid because mommy and daddy will always bail them out, those are the people who don't appreciate what is given.

Randall Parker said at April 4, 2005 10:35 AM:


One sign of intelligence is the ability to recognize that just because a group's average is high or low that does not mean every member of the group share's the group's average score.

You are either unable or unwilling to grasp this obvious point. So is your failure to recognize this point a form of denial or are you less bright than you believe yourself to be?

As for smart people who throw away the potential to be very successful: Sure, I know such people. But dummies do not have the potential to throw away a life of high achievement as an engineer, doctor, or scientist in the first place.

Amazed@ingorance said at October 16, 2008 7:55 AM:

Wow. Lets put off the nature vs nurture debate for one sec. Could someone direct me to the evidence of higher class neighborhoods having better genetics related to intelligence? Lol

Now, from everything I have read, genetic predisposition is not the only determinant factor in how a person turns out. Socialization plays an important part as well. Thus if I am in a upper class neighborhood, there is a very high chance that I will be exposed to better educational institutions, I would probably have more tools to aid in my education at my disposal and I am probably going to be surrounded by people, in every direction, who expect me to be successful and will give me positive reinforcement.

In a lower class neighborhood this is usually not the case in at least 2 if not all 3 of the things I just mentioned. I find this upper class lower class theory very interesting because percentage wise minorities have more lower class neighborhoods I believe so from your theory, is one to deduce that you are saying minorities are not as genetically disposed to being intelligent as caucasians?

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