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2010 December 14 Tuesday
Married Parents Pay More College Expenses

If you want to go to college your odds are better if your parents are still married to each other.

College students whose parents have remained married to each other are faring better financially than their peers with divorced or remarried parents, according to new research from Rice University and the University of Wisconsin.

The study, published in the December Journal of Family Issues, found that divorced parents contributed about a third of what married parents contributed to their children's education even though the divorced parents' incomes are about half as much as their married peers'; remarried parents contributed about half of what married parents contributed, despite having incomes similar to those parents who have stayed married.

The researchers discovered that married parents contributed about 8 percent of their income to their child's college costs and met 77 percent of their children's financial needs; divorced parents contributed about 6 percent of their income and met only 42 percent of their children's financial needs; remarried parents contributed only 5 percent of their income and met 53 percent of their children's needs.

I see this as yet another research report that is necessary in order to prove disputed yet obvious truths. You might think this result entirely unsurprising. After all, divorced parents have to maintain the costs of two households. Also, if Mom gets custody but Dad makes more then Dad has less daily contact with the kids and emotional bonds weaken. Yet some liberals still try to deny the value of marriage.

Since so many parents get divorced - or never get married in the first place and split up more easily - the rising costs of higher education are an even heavier burden for a very large fraction of kids whose parents are divorced. Short of putting Humpty Dumpty back together again and returning to much older attitudes toward marriage what to do? Automate and accelerate education.

By Randall Parker    2010 December 14 09:26 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (5)
2010 October 10 Sunday
College Students Study Less Than They Used To

40 hours per week going to class and studying was just too hard. 27 hours per week opens up more time for sports, video games, parties, and of course seduction.

Using multiple datasets from different time periods, we document declines in academic time investment by full-time college students in the United States between 1961 and 2003. Full-time students allocated 40 hours per week toward class and studying in 1961, whereas by 2003 they were investing about 27 hours per week. Declines were extremely broad-based, and are not easily accounted for by framing effects, work or major choices, or compositional changes in students or schools. We conclude that there have been substantial changes over time in the quantity or manner of human capital production on college campuses.

WTF? I'd like to see these results adjusted for IQ or quality of college (mostly the same thing). Is the decline in hours studying due to more students of lower quality going to college? Certainly the percentage of the population going to college in 1961 was a lot lower than it is today.

On the bright side, few majors really teach job skills. So if students do not study as much there's little long term economic harm. I wonder whether students in economically important majors still study as much.

Check out how students spend their time. Has the percentage of time spent working gone up?

By Randall Parker    2010 October 10 10:56 AM Entry Permalink | Comments (7)
2010 September 26 Sunday
Mark Zuckerberg Tries To Save Newark New Jersey

Does Mark Zuckerberg think his money will improve Newark New Jersey schools?

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg said he would donate $100 million worth of Facebook stock over the next five years through his new Startup: Education foundation. Gov. Chris Christie said he would give Mayor Cory Booker a major role in overseeing any major changes in the district, which the state took over in 1995 because of persistently low test scores and wasteful spending.

Newark already spends $22k per student with not much to show for it.To put that in contrast for New Jersey as a whole $13,601 is spent per student and New Jersey is one of the biggest spending states per student.

Average per child comparative costs in K-12 districts rose to $13,601 during the 2008-09 school year, compared to $12,598 the prior year, and $11,939 in 2006-07.

New Jersey is one of the top states in spending per student. By contrast, Utah spends about half what New Jersey spends or less than a quarter what Newark spends. So why aren't Utah schools a disaster?

By Randall Parker    2010 September 26 09:59 AM Entry Permalink | Comments (1)
2010 September 19 Sunday
Michelle Rhee Wants More Aggressive Educational Reform

While Michelle Rhee is about to get ousted from her position in charge of Washington DC schools in the wake of the black rebellion against white gentrification and professionalization of government in DC she's still totally devoted to the fire-teachers-until-things-improve style of school management. I am happy to hear she wants to apply left-liberal thinking on education even more vigorously.

She did not mention Gray by name or criticize him directly at the Newseum screening. But in a kind of Sarah Palin "don't-retreat-reload" moment, she said the takeaway from the D.C. election for education reformers was that it was time to become even more aggressive in the push for measures such as tougher teacher evaluations using test score data and performance-based pay.

"I would say that the biggest tragedy that could come from yesterday's [Tuesday's] election results is if the lesson people take from this is that we should pull back. That is not the lesson," Rhee said. "That is not doing right by what Adrian Fenty has put into this effort for the last three and half years, that is not the right lesson for this reform movement. We cannot retreat now. If anything, what the reform community needs to take out of yesterday's election is now is the time to lean forward and be more aggressive and more adamant."

What would be ideal: The "reform community" (aka blank slate liberal-left social engineering professional educators) should focus on a few cities that have substantial liberal white majorities with black minorities. In only those cities (gotta limit the extent of the damage), safe from black voter overturn, they should pursue their strategy of firing large numbers of teachers (up to 80%) until the racial test gap closes. We need to see this experiment play out in its stronger form. Only the purging of the kulaks, oops, sorry, wrong revolution....only the firing of large numbers of teachers every year will demonstrate the truth or falsity of the latest liberal vision for American education.

Michelle Rhee should be put in charge of the schools of an ideal city. The ideal city would have a much larger number of white voters than white parents. That way impractical white non-parents would stay supportive of Michelle Rhee even while liberal white parents get upset that their favorite teachers are getting fired. Nothing should get in the way of the take-no-prisoners approach to testing out this progressive liberal idea.

It is crucial that the unrealistic bull-in-a-china-shop idealists get a few cities to control to implement their most severe educational agenda so that we do not get a weaker version of their ideas implemented on a national scale. We need some obvious experimental sites where their ideas can fail on a most spectacular scale. I realize this means there'll be a certain number of friendly fire casualties. But local battles will produce fewer casualties than a large national ideological war against teachers as the latest blame targets. The Inquisition has put reality off the table. So the tragedy must play out in the least damaging form possible.

By Randall Parker    2010 September 19 03:05 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (10)
2010 September 06 Monday
Parents, Teachers Blame Students At Meetings

The truth about parent-teacher conferences is almost scandalous. I say almost scandalous because while the teachers and parents conspire together they mostly conspire to agree to the truth about the kids.

Danielle Pillet-Shore, assistant professor of communication at the University of New Hampshire, has been studying parent-teacher interactions for a decade. What she has found has surprised her.

Most people think of parent-teacher conferences as occasions wholly dedicated to the assessment and evaluation of the student – a kind of student performance review focused on how the child is doing in school, akin to performance appraisals done annually for employees in organizations. But what’s really going on beneath the surface is an assessment and evaluation of one another.

“Parents and teachers behave in a way suggesting that they are each treating the conference as an occasion for their own performance review – using the student’s progress, or lack thereof, as a gauge of how the teacher is doing at his or her job of ‘being a teacher’ and how the parent is doing at his or her job of ‘being a parent,’” Pillet-Shore says.

At the start of each parent-teacher conference both parents and teachers are feeling pretty defensive.

So parent and teacher face a dilemma: How do they each display that they are “good” at their jobs given that they perform much of those jobs outside of direct observation by one another?

The fun part: Parents make themselves look better by dumping on their kids. Yes, you read that right. Parents are willing to be realistic when failing to be realistic makes them look bad.

The parents’ solution may surprise many. Instead of defending their children, parents are consistently critical about their children when talking with teachers, often delivering unsolicited, negative information about them.

There might be a usable lesson here. What do you think? Got any ideas on how to make public discussion on education and human differences more realistic? I'm thinking that teachers who are getting fired in large numbers due to poor performing kids might become a lot more realistic in their public utterances about innate ability.

“Parents use their criticisms as vehicles for accomplishing several goals, including showing that they already know about their children’s potential or actual troubles, displaying that they are fair appraisers of their own children, willing and able to detect and articulate their flaws, and reporting on their own efforts to improve or remedy their children’s faults, shortcomings or problems,” Pillet-Shore says.

Guess what the teachers then do? They agree about those dumb troublesome kids. They build on parental complaints. The parents and teachers conspire together to agree that the kids are the problem. How unlike politicians who have decided the teachers are the problem.

It makes sense for politicians to blame teachers for a number of reasons. One big reason: There are many more parent voters than teacher voters. Another big reason: liberal mythology holds that we are all capable of enormous intellectual feats given the proper environment. How to align the interests of politicians, reporters, and policy makers with the truth instead of with the mythology?

By Randall Parker    2010 September 06 04:35 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (3)
2010 September 04 Saturday
Fire Teachers Until Student Performance Improves?

Firing teachers is the new magic bullet for improving educational outcomes.

Michelle A. Rhee, the schools chancellor in Washington, fired about 25 teachers this summer after they rated poorly in evaluations based in part on a value-added analysis of scores.

And 6,000 elementary school teachers in Los Angeles have found themselves under scrutiny this summer after The Los Angeles Times published a series of articles about their performance, including a searchable database on its Web site that rates them from least effective to most effective. The teachers’ union has protested, urging a boycott of the paper.

I predict that Michelle Rhee, one of the latest great hopes for education, will have about as much success as NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg and his schools chancellor in closing the racial performance gap: zip, zero, nada. Another total bust. But Rhee can ride high until enough time has gone by to demonstrate that she also isn't firing magic bullets.

Since taking a hard look at the different abilities of students is taboo I've been arguing that lots of teachers must be sacrificed for the liberal mythology about education. This is the next logical step in the increasingly unrealistic US national debate on education policy. Sure enough, two seriously deluded researchers, Doug Staiger, and Jonah Rockoff, now argue that 80% of teachers have got to be fired after their first 2 years.

When they ran the numbers, the answer their computer spat out had them reviewing their work looking for programming errors. The optimal rate of firing produced by the simulation simply seemed too high: Maximizing teacher performance required that 80 percent of new teachers be fired after two years' probation.

But Michael O'Hare reports that the attrition rate of new teachers in US urban school districts is already 50% in the first three years.

More important, no organization has ever fired its way to success; 50% of new teachers in urban school districts already leave in the first three years, and we see how well that’s working for us. (That fact, along with a good bit of the thinking in this post, is courtesy of my colleague Alan Schoenfeld, an actual education professor who was nice enough to hip me to a lot of interesting background on this issue.)

Do the economists want to fire 80% of the 50% who remain? So end up with just 10% of those who started? Um, faced with such odds why would any prospective teacher want to start down that road in the first place?

What so discourages 50% of the teachers that they bail? Maybe this experience is representative.

Once big waves of teacher firings fail to improve educational outcomes what comes next? In 5 years time what will education policy makers embrace as the next great magic cure?

By Randall Parker    2010 September 04 10:38 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (23)
Biased Tests And Lazy Students

The Onion asks for their In The Know: Are Tests Biased Against Students Who Don't Give A Shit?

In The Know: Are Tests Biased Against Students Who Don't Give A Shit?

Did a recognition of exactly this bias in testing serve as a foundation for the Supreme Court's Disparate Impact theory as first laid out in Griggs v. Duke Power? Hard to make rational sense of that court ruling. So I'm always on the outlook for an explanation. Surely the Supreme Court can't be senile old liberal fools, can they? Could a lackadaiscal attitude explain these observations? Or does the real explanation lie elsewhere?

Update: The Onion video embed HTML code I used above does not appear to work. So you have to click thru to watch the video. It is funny.

By Randall Parker    2010 September 04 12:41 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (1)
2010 August 18 Wednesday
New York City Fails To Close Racial Test Gap

Previous claims of great progress were totally bogus. Remember that the next time you hear claims of some school system or single school doing what's never been done.

When results from the 2010 tests, which state officials said presented a more accurate portrayal of students’ abilities, were released last month, they came as a blow to the legacy of the mayor and the chancellor, as passing rates dropped by more than 25 percentage points on most tests. But the most painful part might well have been the evaporation of one of their signature accomplishments: the closing of the racial achievement gap.

Among the students in the city’s third through eighth grades, 40 percent of black students and 46 percent of Hispanic students met state standards in math, compared with 75 percent of white students and 82 percent of Asian students. In English, 33 percent of black students and 34 percent of Hispanic students are now proficient, compared with 64 percent among whites and Asians.

I've been expecting a big drive to fire teachers since the number of untried alternatives is getting pretty short. So it no surprise that some academic education researchers advocate firing 80% of new teachers after 2 years. (really). This speaks to the desperateness of liberals trying to hang on to their mythology. How else to stop the slide down of whole states? One might wonder just what goes on in schools with really low performing students. Or one might turn away and dream new dreams.

Once large scaling firing of teachers doesn't do the trick what's going to be the next imagined silver bullet? I'm thinking boarding schools. Totally take over the waking hours of kids. Total immersion. That won't work either of course. But it is something politicos in the education racket haven't tried and they need new hopes to trumpet.

By Randall Parker    2010 August 18 10:36 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (18)
2010 July 21 Wednesday
National Curriculum Next Great Hope In Education

Yet another magic bullet.

Less than two months after the nation’s governors and state school chiefs released their final recommendations for national education standards, 27 states have adopted them and about a dozen more are expected to do so in the next two weeks.

Education is a field that moves from great hope to new great hope. Each great hope is a dud. But deluded hope springs eternal. The great money hope is still alive against all evidence. $22k per student didn't help Newark New Jersey schools. But more money is an attractive solution for those who work in schools because it means higher salaries. So I expect continued promotion of that particular hope.

Testing combined with carrots and sticks was the great hope of the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) fantasy of George W. Bush and Ted Kennedy. With meager improvements to show for it the bloom is coming off that rose. So time to move on to the next delusion. National education standards takes a bow as the next contestant

President Barack Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan are dangling cash for playing the national curriculum game.

The developers considered standards in other countries, along with almost one hundred thousand public comments.

One way the Education Department is trying to persuade states is with money. States are competing to share in almost three and a half billion dollars as part of a school reform competition. They will earn extra points in the Race to the Top if they approve the standards by August second.

The NCLB fantasy was already a source of pressure for a more consistent curriculum as schools increasingly taught to the tests that their states used to check the learning progress of kids.

The desperation of our elites to raise NAM academic performance produces casualties. I'm thinking the national curriculum is a step in the direction of national performance measurements for teachers that will likely raise the casualty rate. More teachers will be fired for failing to raise student performance. The people in academia and the press who enforce the taboos and mythology of our era can't accept any explanation of student performance differences that rests on differences in ability. So the scramble to find other targets to blame will inevitably target teachers and school administrators since they are the most obvious alternatives to blame.

Update: OneSTDV points me to a report on how higher educational spending does not improve outcomes. Hence the drive to fire lots of teachers. If more money won't help then measuring teacher performance (not student performance) in order to fire low performing teachers is the next step. No mention is made of the innate abilities of the students these teachers are failing to teach. That's beyond the pale. So the teachers have got to be sacrificed on the altar of our national liberal secular religion.

By Randall Parker    2010 July 21 09:57 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (22)
2010 July 01 Thursday
School Vouchers In Chile Yield Modest Improvements

Small improvements but that beats the vast bulk of educational policies.

RENO, Nev. – With the effectiveness of school vouchers a hot topic of debate, researchers from the University of Nevada, Reno, the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Chile have completed a lengthy study on the effects of Chile's school reforms in 1981. Along with other school decentralization efforts, the reforms included making Chile the only nation in the world to have a nationwide school voucher program.

Most notably, the study, which looked at students who began school in the early 1970s all the way up through students who began school in the early '90s, showed that the reforms increased high school graduation rates by 3.6 percent, and increased college-going rates by 3.1 percent. It also increased the rate of those completing at least two years of college by 2.6 percent, and the rate of those completing at least four years of college by 1.8 percent. The voucher program also significantly increased the demand for private subsidized schools and decreased the demand for both public and nonsubsidized private schools.

Think of it this way: Chile implemented many a free marketer's dream for how to fund education and the result was a small increase educational attainment. This is not radical improvement. Though it is more improvement than the results of standard left-wing proposals for education: more money focused on paying teachers more and throwing more teachers and bureaucracy at the least intellectually able students.

Earnings reductions due to delayed entry into the workforce canceled out any hoped for gains in income due to higher levels of education.

In addition, although opponents of school voucher programs have long theorized that vouchers would mostly benefit the rich, this study showed that individuals from poor and non-poor backgrounds in Chile, on average, experienced similar educational attainment gains under the voucher program. And, there was also a modest reduction in earnings inequity once the voucher reforms were enacted. However, overall, the reforms did not lead to increased overall average earnings.

"The reform reduced the number of people ages 16 to 25 in the workforce by about 2 percent," explained Sankar Mukhopadhyay, assistant professor of economics at the University of Nevada, Reno, "because more people were staying in school longer. So, the earnings benefits of having greater educational attainment were at least partly offset by the delay in entering the workforce."

Colleges offer far too many majors that do little to nothing to increase productivity. In a rational system where policy was set by a wise and benevolent dictator most college majors would not be eligible for any taxpayer-funded aid.

If governments really want to fund education in a way that would raise living standards then let me make a modest proposal: scale the level of support for college majors based on average starting income of graduates of majors in each subject. Offer no financial aid for majors that get paid the least and the most financial aid for majors that get paid the most. Engineers would get the most financial aid. Not coincidentally, engineers add more economic value to the economy than the vast majority of other occupations.

By Randall Parker    2010 July 01 09:24 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (7)
2010 June 28 Monday
Lower Returns Seen For College Education

The economic value of a college education is wildly exaggerated.

But new research suggests that the monetary value of a college degree may be vastly overblown. According to a study conducted by PayScale for Bloomberg Businessweek, the value of a college degree may be a lot closer to $400,000 over 30 years and varies wildly from school to school. According to the PayScale study, the number of schools that actually make good on the estimates of the earlier research is vanishingly small. There are only 17 schools in the study whose graduates can expect to recoup the cost of their education and out-earn a high school graduate by $1.2 million, including four where they can do so to the tune of $1.6 million.

The top two schools are MIT and CalTech. Take extremely smart people, teach them skills with high market value, turn them loose and they make far more than, say, a sociology major with 30 points lower IQ.

Speaking of IQ, it is of course the one obvious cause of these different outcomes that the article of course does not mention. Never mind that mental horsepower is just like car horsepower: The more you have the faster you can go. IQ is just beyond the pale. Imagine physics where the physicists had to ignore gravity or electromagnetism. That's how the fields education, sociology, political, sociology, economics, and other supposed social sciences approach the study of human nature. Just ignore one of the most powerful causes of differences in human behavior and achievement and pretend like you are making sense.

Since the kids who attend the top schools are a couple of standard deviations above the average in intelligence what's needed to measure the ROI of education is to adjust for IQ. If a kid with 135 IQ attends MIT to study a given major instead of Georgia Tech, Purdue, Cal Poly SLO how much more money does he make? A proper study on ROI of institutes of higher education would measure IQs and find out what the real added value of paying top dollar at a pricey private school.

The article argues that a college degree doesn't offer as much financial benefit as it used to. But to expand college education to a much larger fraction of the population required lowering of standards to enable less bright students to even get thru their freshman year. Dumber majors were created. Grades were inflated. The result: lots of college graduates who aren't very bright with degrees in easy majors that involve a heavy element of indoctrination into mythologies such as absurd theories of education and assorted intellectual fads in humanities.

By Randall Parker    2010 June 28 09:50 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (5)
2010 May 29 Saturday
High Price Colleges Lead Students Deep Into Debt

Higher education is a fraud.

Today, however, Ms. Munna, a 26-year-old graduate of New York University, has nearly $100,000 in student loan debt from her four years in college, and affording the full monthly payments would be a struggle. For much of the time since her 2005 graduation, she’s been enrolled in night school, which allows her to defer loan payments.

When will the education bubble burst? When will kids start figuring out that for most of them higher education isn't worth it unless they go for economically valuable skills?

Get this: the foolish girl racked up $100k in debt to get a degree in religious and women's studies.

Cortney could move someplace cheaper than her current home city of San Francisco, but she worries about her job prospects, even with her N.Y.U. diploma.

She recently received a raise and now makes $22 an hour working for a photographer. It’s the highest salary she’s earned since graduating with an interdisciplinary degree in religious and women’s studies. After taxes, she takes home about $2,300 a month. Rent runs $750, and the full monthly payments on her student loans would be about $700 if they weren’t being deferred, which would not leave a lot left over.

Even if she wasn't paying interest it would take her 12 years to pay back the debt. But if her interest rate is 6% then she's looking at over 19 years of payments. For what? The ability to work a job that she could have gotten sooner without the degree. What the hell are people thinking when they go to college to get a degree in some "studies" major? I can see it if you were born rich and just want to intellectually entertain yourself and hang out at college parties. But what if you really need to make a living once you leave school?

Colleges and universities like NYU are peddling a fraud to prospective students. Spend big bucks to attend their over-priced institutions of higher learning and the door to wealth and success will be opened. The Left's constant chanting that education is the answer sets up each new generation of youths to be easy marks for what the colleges are selling.

By Randall Parker    2010 May 29 05:17 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (17)
2010 May 23 Sunday
Home Libraries Speed Child Learning

Is a big home library as good as having educated parents for a child's intellectual development?

RENO, Nev. – Whether rich or poor, residents of the United States or China, illiterate or college graduates, parents who have books in the home increase the level of education their children will attain, according to a 20-year study led by Mariah Evans, University of Nevada, Reno associate professor of sociology and resource economics.

For years, educators have thought the strongest predictor of attaining high levels of education was having parents who were highly educated. But, strikingly, this massive study showed that the difference between being raised in a bookless home compared to being raised in a home with a 500-book library has as great an effect on the level of education a child will attain as having parents who are barely literate (3 years of education) compared to having parents who have a university education (15 or 16 years of education). Both factors, having a 500-book library or having university-educated parents, propel a child 3.2 years further in education, on average.

If I could change my own childhood via a time machine visit I'd send myself a very high quality pile of books. I was an obsessive reader. But in retrospect the books I had to read were far from ideal.

I doubt that a 500 book library would provide as big of a benefit as college educated parents if the books were added into households of parents who do not normally read. The 500 book libraries are really indicators of smarter and more curious parents - even if the parents didn't achieve high levels of education themselves. I bet the kids growing up in houses with big libraries were smarter on average and inherited that smarts from their parents. Until social science research starts controlling for genetic factors research such as that reported above won't tell us the real causes of observed differences.

By Randall Parker    2010 May 23 10:28 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (10)
Poorer Kids Not Getting Good Return From College

Kevin Carey of Washington DC think tank Education Sector argues that a lot of kids aren't getting their money's worth from college educations.

What the encomiums to Pell failed to mention is that his grants have been, in all the ways that matter most, a failure. As any parent can tell you, colleges are increasingly unaffordable. Students are borrowing at record levels and loan default rates are rising. More and more low-income students are getting priced out of higher education altogether. The numbers are stark: When Pell grants were named for the senator in 1980, a typical public four-year university cost $2,551 annually. Pell Grants provided $1,750, almost 70 percent of the total. Even private colleges cost only about $5,600 back then. Low-income students could matriculate with little fear of financial hardship, as Pell intended. Over the next three decades, Congress poured vast sums into the program, increasing annual funding from $2 billion to nearly $20 billion. Yet today, Pell Grants cover only 33 percent of the cost of attending a public university. Why? Because prices have increased nearly 500 percent since 1980. Average private college costs, meanwhile, rose to over $34,000 per year.

Increased demand caused increased prices. Why keep your prices down if demand won't go down when you raise prices? The US government helped colleges and universities raise their prices.

If the US government really wanted to play a constructive role in higher education it would fund the creation of a series of tests of competency on a long list of objective scientific, mathematical, engineering, and technical skills. One should be able to go to a web site, sign up for a calculus test (or linear algebra or organic chemistry or basic accounting), take the test, and then see if one knows the subject well enough. If one passes then one should be able to sign up to take a proctored test in person so that your identity can be verified when you take the test. So then you take the test at a testing center (which could be a high school class room used for this at night or it could be a community college or university class room). Then you get certified as having passed this test. One should be able to earn the better part of a college degree just by taking tests. The ability to do this cheaply with standardized tests would enable students to avoid colleges that cost tens of thousands of dollars per year.

Too many of the students who go to college do not learn much. But he ignores the real reasons for this.

But the biggest problem with American higher education isn’t that too many students can’t afford to enroll. It’s that too many of the students who do enroll aren’t learning very much and aren’t earning degrees. For the average student, college isn’t nearly as good a deal as colleges would have us believe.

One reason college isn't such a good deal is that lots of kids choose to study what interests them rather than what is economically valuable. While petroleum engineers start out at $86k per year out of college by contrast music majors start out at around $34k and fine arts and drama majors start out below $36k. Their mid-career salaries are only $20k higher.

He blames the poor performance of poor kids on low quality of instruction at lower tier colleges. This is nonsense.

Pell Grants do nothing to address that problem. Low-income students are increasingly forced to attend inexpensive but under-resourced, non-selective universities and community colleges, where student results are often astoundingly bad.

Student results are astoundingly bad because the students at lower tier colleges aren't that bright. Half the kids graduating from high school in 2010 are going to attend college this fall. Well, news flash for Kevin Carey: Less than half of all kids are college material.

I'll take white kids to make an example. Among whites average IQ is about 100. Well, it doesn't make sense for kids below 115 IQ to pursue the more difficult college subjects. But only about 16% of white kids have IQs above 115. If the upper 50% of white kids go to college then that means kids with 101 IQ are going to sit in courses where very complex subjects will be taught. They aren't going to understand. Some college subjects are of lower difficulty and there is room for some 110-115 IQ kids in some occupations that are taught in college. But that doesn't get us to near half of all kids going to college.

Lower tier colleges that find it hard to recruit bright students are tempted to lower standards in order to keep their classes and dorms full.

Update: One problem with my analysis: some kids drop out of high school. About 25% of whites drop out of high school. What's the average IQ of whites that graduate from high school? Suppose (though it seems unlikely) that exactly the bottom 25% in IQ drop out of high school. Then if 37.5% of all white 18 year-olds go to college (and I need a better source for a number specific to whites) then we are still reaching down below 110 IQ for white college students.

Update II: Why do some kids get a poor return on investment in higher education? Read about the Voldemort View: the View That Must Not Be Named.

By Randall Parker    2010 May 23 03:00 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (8)
2010 April 17 Saturday
$22k Per Student In Newark New Jersey Schools

Why do you suppose money doesn't improve academic performance?

According to Mr. Christie, New Jersey taxpayers are spending $22,000 per student in the Newark school system, yet less than a third of these students graduate, proving that more money isn't the answer to better performance. He favors more student choice is, which is why he's ramping up approvals for charter schools.

$22k per kid is a lot of money for grade school or high school kid. Imagine you have a class of 16 kids. That's $352 thou for a class. The school buildings tend to be owned by the school system. So there's not a lot of rent cost. Electric power and heating do not add up to all that much. Where's the money going? Probably administrators, specialists, and really good pay and benefits for the teachers.

The teachers unions and members of the press who keep crying out for more money to fix education need to explain why more money does not work. Now, I think I know the (unspeakable, taboo, beyond-the-pale) answer. But what's their answer?

While I'm asking questions: Which city spends the most per student? Which city best demonstrates the limits of money for boosting intellectual performance?

By Randall Parker    2010 April 17 12:44 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (10)
2010 April 13 Tuesday
School Spending Bubble In New Jersey

Another sign of how the public sector grew even as the private sector of the American economy was sputtering.

Given the state's chronic budget woes, the schools' hiring spree defies logic. Since 2001, just as budget problems began in earnest, public-school enrollment in Jersey has risen by less than 3 percent, or slightly more than 36,000 students. But total school hiring (full-time employees and equivalents) has jumped by 14 percent, or nearly 28,000 employees, according to federal Census statistics.

That's right: Jersey's schools have added three-quarters of an employee for every new student -- during a period of deep fiscal pain for the state. Most of the new hires were teachers -- which is more than one new instructional worker for every two new students.

The hiring spree, along with rich benefit increases, has fueled payrolls. Wage costs alone have increased 43 percent since 2001 -- well ahead of the inflation rate plus enrollment growth.

How much of this spending increase was driven by "close the gap" politics? How much was driven by naive belief even on the right side of the Bell Curve that higher spending can substantially boost student performance? The educational bubble still hasn't burst like the housing bubble. But the education delusion can't last forever - it is becoming too expensive.

By Randall Parker    2010 April 13 10:50 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (5)
2010 February 17 Wednesday
Standard Tests In 8 States For Early High School Graduation

This is a step in the right direction.

Dozens of public high schools in eight states will introduce a program next year allowing 10th graders who pass a battery of tests to get a diploma two years early and immediately enroll in community college.

But really smart kids might already know enough to pass the battery of tests at the end of 8th or 9th grade. Also, taking the tests earlier would give students a measure of what they most need to study.

If a student fails at the end of 10th grade then a repeat attempt is allowed a year later.

Students who pass but aspire to attend a selective college may continue with college preparatory courses in their junior and senior years, organizers of the new effort said. Students who fail the 10th-grade tests, known as board exams, can try again at the end of their 11th and 12th grades. The tests would cover not only English and math but also subjects like science and history.

This once-a-year shot at early graduation is too long a time interval between tries. Students should be able to take trial tests online any time of the day or night all year around. That way students can track their own progress in real time. This will give them faster feedback and therefore greater incentive to try to improve their scores.

A student who fails at the end of 10th grade ought to be able to spend all summer learning and then take another official stab at early graduation before starting 11th grade. Quarterly tests would be even better.

The idea that the tests should be administered at the end of the school year is based on the assumption that kids should learn from professional teachers in bricks-and-mortar buildings. What's needed are online lectures and course material for high school subjects. Let the more motivated kids learn at any hour of the night or day 365 days of the year. Let them create their own structure for learning.

Accelerated online learning has the potential to save parents and students enormous amounts of money and to enable young people to avoid starting out their work lives burdened with heavy debts that take many years to pay off. Growing public discontent with high college costs can be addressed by automation and accelerated education.

Online learning and tests for college credit can help avoid the nightmare of big college debts. One medical doctor has loans that'll take until she's at least 70 years old to pay off.

When Michelle Bisutti, a 41-year-old family practitioner in Columbus, Ohio, finished medical school in 2003, her student-loan debt amounted to roughly $250,000. Since then, it has ballooned to $555,000.

It is the result of her deferring loan payments while she completed her residency, default charges and relentlessly compounding interest rates. Among the charges: a single $53,870 fee for when her loan was turned over to a collection agency.

"Maybe half of it was my fault because I didn't look at the fine print," Dr. Bisutti says. "But this is just outrageous now."

By Randall Parker    2010 February 17 10:08 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (5)
2010 January 18 Monday
Academia Liberal Due To Stereotyping?

Has stereotyping convinced conservatives to avoid academic careers?

The academic profession “has acquired such a strong reputation for liberalism and secularism that over the last 35 years few politically or religiously conservative students, but many liberal and secular ones, have formed the aspiration to become professors,” they write in the paper, “Why Are Professors Liberal?” That is especially true of their own field, sociology, which has become associated with “the study of race, class and gender inequality — a set of concerns especially important to liberals.”

What distinguishes Mr. Gross and Mr. Fosse’s research from so much of the hubbub that surrounds this subject is their methodology. Whereas most arguments have primarily relied on anecdotes, this is one of the only studies to use data from the General Social Survey of opinions and social behaviors and compare professors with the rest of Americans.

Seems to me this theory could be tested by going back 60+ years and looking up the voting registration party affiliations of major university professors. My guess is that the academy moved left before the stereotyping of academics as liberals became commonplace.

By Randall Parker    2010 January 18 11:47 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (10)
2009 October 17 Saturday
US NAEP School Score Progress Stopping?

The release of the 2009 NAEP scores on student performance serves as another occasion to take a look at the hopes of liberals that more school spending, teaching to tests, and longer school days and years can make a difference on student performance. Progress stopped for 4th graders. Charles Murray says progress in raising black scores was faster before No Child Left Behind (NCLB) legislation increased the pressure to raise black and Hispanic scores.

Mark Schneider nailed one problem posed for No Child Left Behind (NCLB) by the new math results—the gains in math prior to NCLB were larger than they have been since. There’s another problem Mark didn’t take up: No progress in achieving the most highly touted objective of NCLB, closing the gap in black and white test scores. From 2004 to 2008, the difference in scores went up by a trivial 2 points for 9-year-olds, down 2 points for 13-year-olds, and was unchanged for 17-year-olds.

The 2009 Grade 4 State Results make interesting browsing. You need Flash enabled. First, you can hover across the green (smarter) states and see that Massachusetts is smarter and generally ice box states are smarter. Then pop down the combo box below "National Public" which probably says "Average scale score" and choose "At advanced". Then a different picture emerges: Colorado, whose "Average scale score" of 243 is bested by a number of states still manages to beat them in the percentage of students scoring "At advanced".

Now click to the White tab with "Average scale score". Suddenly the ranking of states changes dramatically. Texas becomes a contender, tying North Carolina at 254. I suspect that's at least due to migration of engineers and software developers into their burgeoning tech sectors. Many of the Ice Box states become also-rans with only Minnesota, New Hampshire, Massachusetts (clearly the smartest state), Connecticut, and New Jersey staying in the running. Kansas becomes a contender. So the white brains distribution doesn't fit my intuitive expectation.

For whites West Virginia is unsurprisingly the bottom of the barrel at 233 followed by Alabama at 237.

But the real acid test (and a big surprise) of where's the brains is on the White tab on "At advanced". Maryland vaults to the lead at 15% and Minnesota and Massachusetts tie for second place with 14% at the advanced level in mathematics. North Carolina is in third place with 13%.

The Asian/Pacific Islander tab shows much higher numbers for "At advanced" with Kentucky at the top with 35%. Since APac encompasses a huge amount of genetic diversity this leads me to wonder whether Kentucky just has children of immigrant professors in engineering and science from an especially smart ethnic group.

Try browsing around in the data and see what patterns you find. If you aren't easily depressed then click on the Black and Hispanic tabs and choose "At advanced". Hispanics in Montana do best at 4%. Why is that?

Update: I almost missed the Washington DC results. DC has by far the highest scores for whites at the advanced level: 33%! Yet blacks in DC score 0% at advanced level. Two parallel cities in the same boundaries. The children of our rulers are very smart. Lobbyists obviously have brains. This probably explains how Maryland can best Massachusetts and Minnesota. The Puritans and the Swedes aren't as smart as the national cream of the ruling crop. What percentage of the white population of DC are Ashkenazi Jews? Top lawyers work in DC.

Update II: Why is all this happening? Read about the Voldemort View: the View That Must Not Be Named.

By Randall Parker    2009 October 17 05:14 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (9)
2009 September 13 Sunday
Hard To Fire Incompetent Teachers in New York City

Writing for The New Yorker Steven Brill reports on efforts by the New York City school system to fire incompetent teachers. Bet they do not have this problem in China.

In a windowless room in a shabby office building at Seventh Avenue and Twenty-eighth Street, in Manhattan, a poster is taped to a wall, whose message could easily be the mission statement for a day-care center: “Children are fragile. Handle with care.” It’s a June morning, and there are fifteen people in the room, four of them fast asleep, their heads lying on a card table. Three are playing a board game. Most of the others stand around chatting. Two are arguing over one of the folding chairs. But there are no children here. The inhabitants are all New York City schoolteachers who have been sent to what is officially called a Temporary Reassignment Center but which everyone calls the Rubber Room.

These fifteen teachers, along with about six hundred others, in six larger Rubber Rooms in the city’s five boroughs, have been accused of misconduct, such as hitting or molesting a student, or, in some cases, of incompetence, in a system that rarely calls anyone incompetent.

All told 1700 teachers get paid by the City of New York to do nothing. I really hate the waste and parasitism of big cities.

The teachers have been in the Rubber Room for an average of about three years, doing the same thing every day—which is pretty much nothing at all.

The administrators who want to fire teachers even when the claims against them are unproven argue that it is more important to err on the side of firing more teachers since the vast majority of the dismissed teachers will be of poor quality. The interests of the students should outweigh the fairness to individual teachers. I agree. The schools exist for the students, not for the teachers. But of course the unions end up capturing control of the schools and the interests of teachers take a distant second place.

Other urban school systems are trying to fight against the pernicious affects of tenure and teachers' unions.

The stated rationale for the reassignment centers is unassailable: Get these people away from children, even if tenure rules require that they continue to be paid. Most urban school systems faced with tenure constraints follow the same logic. Los Angeles and San Francisco pay suspended teachers to answer phones, work in warehouses, or just stay home; in Chicago they do clerical work. But the policies implemented by other cities are on a far smaller scale—both because they have fewer teachers and because they have not been as aggressive as Klein and Bloomberg in trying to root out the worst teachers.

Of course the article bows toward political correctness. What elephant in the room goes unmentioned?

By now, most serious studies on education reform have concluded that the critical variable when it comes to kids succeeding in school isn’t money spent on buildings or books but, rather, the quality of their teachers. A study of the Los Angeles public schools published in 2006 by the Brookings Institution concluded that “having a top-quartile teacher rather than a bottom-quartile teacher four years in a row would be enough to close the black-white test score gap.” But, in New York and elsewhere, holding teachers accountable for how well they teach has proved to be a frontier that cannot be crossed.

What happens after a teacher sits in the Rubber Room for years and hundreds of thousands of dollars are spent on hearings and investigations? The arbitrators are reluctant to fire teachers because the arbitrators want to keep their own jobs.

Klein’s explanation is that “most arbitrators are not inclined to dismiss a teacher, because they have to get approved again every year by the union, and the union keeps a scorecard.” (Weingarten denies that the union keeps a scorecard.)

Modest proposal: test the IQs of teachers and fire any teacher who has low IQ. That idea is way beyond the pale for liberal city school systems and for the liberal elites who still dominate the courts, press, and academia.

By Randall Parker    2009 September 13 12:22 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (4)
2009 September 04 Friday
College Real Costs Vary By Department

A New York Times article about rising costs of higher education observes that some majors cost a lot more and English is one of the cheaper majors.

“Fine arts has studio-based production, so capital and facility costs are high,” said Jane Wellman, executive director of the nonprofit group Delta Project on Postsecondary Education Costs, Productivity and Accountability, speaking of colleges in general. “Piano tutoring is pretty much one to one in a room with a piano. Pianos are expensive. Agriculture is expensive because of the lab costs, which means a barn.”

An English student, however, is generally a profit center. “They’re paying for the chemistry major and the music major and faculty research,” she said. “They don’t want to talk about it in institutions, because the English department gets mad. The little ugly facts about cross-subsidies are inflammatory, so they get papered over.”

Makes sense. There's a huge surplus of Ph.D.s in English and no need for labs or special equipment to teach the subject. I'd like to know the relative cost of offering the various science, engineering, and business-oriented majors. Is a chemistry or physics department more expensive? Is engineering more expensive than science? Is math cheaper than the hard sciences? Why don't colleges charge different prices for different majors and classes?

Like so many other institutions Lafayette College in Easton PA spends more on non-faculty than on faculty. Why so much parasitism?

Lafayette, like many colleges, spends more on nonfaculty salaries than it does on pay for the teachers. How did that happen? Mr. Weiss uses the evolution of career counseling as an example. He does not recall whether there was a placement office when he was an undergraduate at George Washington University in the 1970s. “Now there is the expectation, and I don’t think it’s misplaced, that students can get help in entering the workplace,” he said. If Lafayette did not create a rigorous support system, he noted, its graduates would be competing with students from other colleges and universities that had done so. “And therefore, we’ve invested very significantly in new administrative staff.”

Kids entering the workplace would benefit more from career-relevant skills than from counseling.

What is it about American society that there has been such a huge proliferation of advisors, counselors, administrators, and specialists to do jobs that could just not get done at all with little loss in the overall productivity of an organization? We see this in government agencies of many kinds. We see this in colleges and universities. I do not think we have much to show for all these added layers, meetings, and committees.

Universities and colleges aren't going to reform themselves without outside incentives and pressures to reform. Only competing ways of delivering educational services (e.g. on the internet with prerecorded lectures and automated tests) will provide the competition needed to create price pressure. As things stand now prices are set by willingness of parents to pay ridiculous amounts to get their kids thru college.

By Randall Parker    2009 September 04 09:22 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (5)
Students Going Deeper In Debt

The overselling of the value of education causes students to go deeper and deeper into debt. Their ability to borrow more money will just cause schools to raise prices to get that money.

New numbers from the U.S. Education Department show that federal student-loan disbursements—the total amount borrowed by students and received by schools—in the 2008-09 academic year grew about 25% over the previous year, to $75.1 billion. The amount of money students borrow has long been on the rise. But last year far surpassed past increases, which ranged from as low as 1.7% in the 1998-99 school year to almost 17% in 1994-95, according to figures used in President Barack Obama's proposed 2010 budget.

Lots of these students aren't even learning anything economically useful. The article reports on a journalism student graduating from an unimportant university with $60k in debt. With newspapers shriveling up and dying left and right her job prospects are bleak. Another student in the article is got a law degree from U Pitt with $181k in debt, spent a year looking for a job, and finally got one at a small office that probably pays poorly.

As Half Sigma keeps pointing out (again and again and again and a whole lot here) in the United States unless you attend a top 14 law school you are wasting your time and money. The debt students are racking up at lower tier law schools is just a burden that stands in the way of their advancement in life.

Students need detailed data on salaries and job prospects for their areas of interest. They need that income data combined with projected money loan payment costs so they can steer away from schools and majors that put them on the path to poverty and failure. Most of them probably have no idea how deep a hole they are digging for themselves. Many should take a hard look at online courses and reduce their use of bricks-and-mortar schools.

By Randall Parker    2009 September 04 10:05 AM Entry Permalink | Comments (4)
2009 August 29 Saturday
The Inductivist Finds Low High School Teacher IQs

Ron Guhname (a pseudonym since he works in politically oppressive academia) The Inductivist finds that using answers on the General Social Survey the average high school teacher in America has an IQ of only 104. That is worse than I expected. I would have guessed between 110 and 115.

What is the typical teacher's IQ? Reader David made an interesting comment on the post about the breadwinner family that with homeschooling your child is taught by someone with a IQ higher than that of the typical teacher (not to mention having the right politics).

What is the level of intelligence of today's high school teacher? Looking at GSS data, I calculated mean IQs for the 1980s and 1990s combined (N = 107) and for this decade (N = 68) . For the early period, the average was 107. Now it's 104. I'm not impressed.

College education departments are less known for their academic standards than for their kooky theories. But I expected the need to pass courses outside of education majors would have put a floor on teacher IQs that would have produced a higher average than 104. But I haven't looked at the SAT and ACT data for applicants to state teachers colleges. Maybe 104 is plausible. Anyone got a source of data on this?

Ron's point about homeschooling is important. Smart moms can give their kids better educations than they'll receive at school.

These results provide another argument for more video lectures and downloadable textbooks for kids in grade school and high school. A private non-profit foundation looking for beneficial ways to spend its money could serve a useful service by hiring smart people to lecture to video cameras on grammar, history, and other topics aimed at grade school and high school students. Recorded high quality lectures would serve as useful tools for both home schooling moms and also for parents who want to provide a higher quality supplement for what Johnnie and Jill are learning at the local public school.

By Randall Parker    2009 August 29 12:55 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (8)
2009 June 30 Tuesday
Higher Education Costs Up More Than Inflation Yet Again

The National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities finds that educational costs at colleges and universities still keep going up faster than inflation.

June 29 (Bloomberg) -- Tuition and fees at private U.S. colleges and universities for the 2009-2010 school year will rise an average 4.3 percent, the lowest percentage increase in at least 37 years, according to a survey.

Never mind that the economy is flirting with deflation and we are in the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression. The education cartel is raising rates.

Hey, they've improved. Smallest increase since 1972-1973.

The 4.3 percent increase for 2009-10 is the smallest since 1972-73, when average tuition and fees at private institutions rose by the same rate. The increase is slightly higher than the 2008 Consumer Price Index of 3.8 percent. NAICU's figure is based on responses from 350 private, nonprofit colleges and universities.

What we need:

  • Large scale high res video recording of course lectures. State governments should fund this activity at state universities. Get more enduring value from paying professor salaries.
  • Make the videos downloadable and purchasable on DVD.
  • Develop web-based standard practice tests so people can test their mastery of topics while sitting at home or anywhere else with an internet connection.
  • Proctored standardized tests that you pay to take that let you get credit for knowledge in a subject without having to apply and enroll in a college.

This won't work for every course. But it'll work for most science, engineering, math, economics, and business undergrad courses. People who want to learn an economically valuable skill will be able to do so at low cost, at their own rate, with no transportation costs, and without disrupting their work day. They'll even be able to choose among many people teaching the same topic and therefore view a higher average level of lecture quality than they'd get from taking courses at a single college or university.

Automation of education cuts costs, improves quality, increases convenience, and increases availability.

By Randall Parker    2009 June 30 10:27 AM Entry Permalink | Comments (24)
United States Tops In Higher Education Expenditures

In the United States the cost of higher education has been rising faster than the rate of inflation for decades. Turns out the United States spends almost twice the percentage of GDP on higher education than the average among OECD countries (basically the developed economies).

Among the OECD countries reporting data in 2005, the countries that spent the highest percentage of their GDP on total education expenditures were Iceland (8.0 percent), Denmark (7.4 percent), Korea (7.2 percent), and the United States (7.1 percent). Looking at education expenditures by level, the United States spent 3.8 percent of its GDP on elementary and secondary education, which was the same as the average for all OECD countries reporting data. Compared with the percentage of GDP that the United States spent on elementary and secondary education, 12 countries spent a higher percentage, 13 countries spent a lower percentage, and 2 countries spent the same percentage. Iceland spent the highest percentage (5.4 percent) of its GDP on elementary and secondary education. At the postsecondary level, 2.9 percent of the GDP of the United States was spent on education; this amount was higher than the OECD average of 1.5 percent and higher than that of any other OECD country reporting data.

That's a lot of waste we can ill afford. In education we have the potential to cut costs, raise quality, increase convenience, and increase accessibility all at the same time. Let me repeat what we need:

  • Large scale high res video recording of course lectures. State governments should fund this activity at state universities. Get more enduring value from paying professor salaries.
  • Make the videos downloadable and purchasable on DVD.
  • Develop web-based standard practice tests so people can test their mastery of topics while sitting at home or anywhere else with an internet connection.
  • Proctored standardized tests that you pay to take that let you get credit for knowledge in a subject without having to apply and enroll in a college.

The average college lecture is way worse than the best college lecture on any given topic. If many courses that cover the same topic were video recorded then we could choose among dozens of lecturers for the same course and we could rate them just like we rate books and gadgets on Amazon. So we could get much higher quality instruction. We could learn at our own pace. We could crame huge amounts of learning into a week or two off from work. We could watch lectures on a laptop while riding a train or subway. We could watch lectures on the beach or on a mountain top. We could test our abilities in a large range of subjects.

For a very small portion of what governments now spend on education far more automated means of delivery and testing could be made widely available for cheap.

By Randall Parker    2009 June 30 09:31 AM Entry Permalink | Comments (1)
2009 May 31 Sunday
Harvard Hit By Financial Crisis

Boston Magazine has a great article about Harvard's need to downsize due to endowment investment losses after a huge spending splurge.Bigger brains means bigger mistakes.

The turnover may have hurt, because last fall's stock market meltdown seemed to catch HMC asleep at the wheel. As of June 30, 2008, the Harvard endowment was 105 percent invested: HMC had borrowed above the endowment's value in order to make additional bets. With the vast majority of its money tied up in holdings from which it could not easily be extracted, the university was ill prepared when the tanking Dow spurred anxious counterparties to call in their chits. Those margin calls forced Harvard to put up collateral—cash that it did not have. And it couldn't unload its illiquid investments to come up with that money, because their value had fallen so precipitously that no one had any idea what they were really worth.

Harvard did bad things with complex financial instruments that Warren Buffett calls financial weapons of mass destruction. Harvard had to pay big money to Goldman Sachs when the market drove a big interest rate swap against Harvard.

Further squeezing Harvard was a transaction Summers had pushed it into in 2004, when he successfully argued that the university should engage in a multibillion-dollar interest rate swap with Goldman Sachs and other large banks. Under the terms of the deal, Harvard would pay Goldman a long-term fixed rate while Goldman paid Harvard the Federal Reserve rate. The main goal was to lock in a low rate for future debt, and if the Fed had raised rates, Harvard would have made hundreds of millions. But when the Fed slashed rates to historic lows to try to goose stalled credit markets, the deal turned equally sour for Harvard: By last November, the value of the swaps had fallen to negative $570 million. The university found itself needing to post more collateral to guarantee those swaps, and would ultimately buy its way out of them at an undisclosed cost.

The edge of insolvency? The center for the defense of the liberal ascendancy is at the edge of insolvency?

HMC "took the university right to the edge of the abyss," one alumnus, a financier who is privy to details of the university's balance sheet, told me. I asked what he meant. "Meaning, you're out of cash.

"That," he added, "is the definition of insolvency."

Harvard is kinda like the state of California. Living beyond its liberal means. In California the liberal welfare state is getting whacked. Libertarians rejoice.

What we need: More cheap online courses and online tests for certified competencies. Free online accounting training anyone? Charles Murray makes a similar argument in a book entitled Real Education: Four Simple Truths for Bringing America's Schools Back to Reality where Murray makes the case for certified examines to demonstrate subject mastery modeled after the CPA examination.

By Randall Parker    2009 May 31 03:07 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (8)
2009 April 28 Tuesday
Grad School Like Detroit Auto Makers?

Mark C. Taylor, chair of the Columbia U religion department, argues in a New York Times Op-Ed that graduate school education in America is th Detroit of higher learning. I think this comparison is unfair to the auto industry.

GRADUATE education is the Detroit of higher learning. Most graduate programs in American universities produce a product for which there is no market (candidates for teaching positions that do not exist) and develop skills for which there is diminishing demand (research in subfields within subfields and publication in journals read by no one other than a few like-minded colleagues), all at a rapidly rising cost (sometimes well over $100,000 in student loans).

Consider, the cost of cars isn't going up as fast as the overall rate of inflation while universities are hiking their prices faster than the rate of education. Then there's quality. Detroit's made huge strides in improving quality.

The online realm is causing a collapse in printed newspaper circulation. Well, it is only a matter of time until online education starts making substantial inroads into live bricks-and-mortar education.

I see signs and indications that online education will take off and some colleges will get converted to commercial office buildings or other uses.

By Randall Parker    2009 April 28 12:12 AM Entry Permalink | Comments (11)
2009 April 24 Friday
Low Educational Achievement Seen Lowering US GDP

We'd be richer if the average American did as well in school as the average Finn.

Closing the educational-achievement gap between the U.S. and higher-performing nations such as Finland and South Korea could boost U.S. gross domestic product by as much as $2.3 trillion, or about 16%, according to a new study by McKinsey & Co., the international consulting concern.

The report, which used a formula McKinsey helped develop to link educational achievement to economic output, also estimated closing the gap in the U.S. between white students and their black and Latino peers could increase annual GDP by as much as an additional $525 billion, or about 4%.

In its report, McKinsey said existing achievement gaps have "created the equivalent of a permanent, deep recession in terms of the gap between actual and potential output in the economy."

That "permanent, deep recession" is going to get much bigger in coming decades.

Strangely enough, over at the New York Times Catherine Rampell speaks out of school when she points out that America spends big on education as compared to other countries with little to show for it.

Unfortunately, throwing money at the system doesn’t seem to help, either. As it is, the United States gets comparatively little bang for its buck on education spending. The United States spends more than any other country per point on the PISA math exam, and 60 percent more than the O.E.C.D. average:

Educators say "give us more money and then we can make it better". My reaction? MRD.

The abilities of students or failures of parents aren't politically correct explanations for low academic performance.

The New York City schools chancellor, Joel I. Klein, who introduced the findings at the National Press Club in Washington, said the study vindicated the idea that the root cause of test-score disparities was not poverty or family circumstances, but subpar teachers and principals. He pointed to an analysis in the report showing low-income black fourth graders from the city outperformed students in all other major urban districts on reading (they came in second in math).

The population growth of higher performing Asian immigrants is far too slow to make up for the huge influx of lower performing Hispanic Amerind immigrants. The Hispanics do not improve in academic performance after the second generation. But academic achievement is as much a symptom of deeper causes of economic achievement as it is a cause of economic achievement. A more powerful factor influences economic growth and does this at the level of nations. Though one can get in trouble for stating the obvious.

By Randall Parker    2009 April 24 12:14 AM Entry Permalink | Comments (14)
2009 April 19 Sunday
Ignorance Cheaper Than Education For Many

A New York Times article explores the debt burden that many carry when they graduate from college.

“You often hear the quote that you can’t put a price on ignorance,” said Ezra Kazee, who has $29,000 in student debt and has been unable to find a job since graduating from Winona State University in Minnesota last May. “But with the way higher education is going, ignorance is looking more and more affordable every day.”

One guy in the article graduated with a $150,000 debt for training in visual design with $1500 per month payments and he can't find a job that pays anything more than his rent. Oh, and get this: student loans are now hard to discharge in bankruptcy. Go to school and become a serf. Colleges and universities are graduating indentured servants. How's that for enlightened liberalism?

You should not graduate with more total debt than your expected starting salary.

The average cumulative debt among graduating seniors is about $22,500, according to, a Web site that specializes in financial aid.

Mark Kantrowitz, publisher of and, recommends that students follow a simple rule of thumb. “Do not borrow more than your expected starting salary for your entire undergraduate education,” he said. “If your starting salary is going to be $40,000, then you should borrow no more than $10,000 a year for a four-year degree.”

Higher education has become unaffordable. The return on investment is too low. What is needed to solve this problem? Here's a good start:

  • Make video recordings of lectures for large numbers of college courses. Put these lectures on the web.
  • Come up with standard tests for objective topics of study (e.g. calculus, physics, chemistry, etc). Put them on the web. Let people test their knowledge using web tests.
  • Provide walk-in testing facilities at state colleges (or other facilities) where people can pay to take standardized tests and get certified for their competence.
  • Certification requirements should be set by professional societies (e.g. American Chemical Society, American Physical Society). That way industry can know that possession of certificates of competency demonstrates understanding of substantial bodies of knowledge.

Basically, eliminate the need to go to bricks-and-mortar colleges. They cost too much. They take too much time. They are inconvenient with lecture times that reduce the ability of students to use their time effectively. Also, quality of teaching varies. Recorded lectures of the best teachers would raise the average level of viewed lectures.

By Randall Parker    2009 April 19 11:08 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (15)
2009 January 29 Thursday
Chinese And American Students Compared In Science Reasoning

Students in China know more scientific facts without gaining a greater ability to do scientific reasoning.

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- A study of college freshmen in the United States and in China found that Chinese students know more science facts than their American counterparts -- but both groups are nearly identical when it comes to their ability to do scientific reasoning.

Neither group is especially skilled at reasoning, however, and the study suggests that educators must go beyond teaching science facts if they hope to boost students’ reasoning ability.

Yes, educators must go beyond teaching facts. They must embrace genetic engineering. Only genetic engineering can bring about a large increase in reasoning ability. But these researchers do not address innate differences in intellectual ability.

Researchers tested nearly 6,000 students majoring in science and engineering at seven universities -- four in the United States and three in China. Chinese students greatly outperformed American students on factual knowledge of physics -- averaging 90 percent on one test, versus the American students’ 50 percent, for example.

But in a test of science reasoning, both groups averaged around 75 percent -- not a very high score, especially for students hoping to major in science or engineering.

These results would be more useful if the Chinese and American students were compared with IQ tests. At least in the US there's a huge difference in average student intellectual ability between universities. So these researchers might have been comparing students who differ too much in innate ability to allow useful comparisons.

By Randall Parker    2009 January 29 10:48 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (3)
2009 January 25 Sunday
The Flight To More Secure Job Occupations

An article in the New York Times discusses the flight of workers toward safer and more stable jobs. But the most interesting observation has to do with teaching salaries at some community colleges. People who earn Ph.D.s and teach at community colleges do not get paid much.

At 41,000 students, Macomb’s enrollment is up 10 percent from last year, Mr. Jacobs said. With the recession driving enrollment, he is adding to his staff of 220 full-time teachers and 750 adjuncts. Most of the new hires are adjuncts, though the courses they teach there and at another community college often add up to full-time work.

Since enrollment is rising, they are assured of work semester after semester, Mr. Jacobs said. The annual pay is $40,000 or less — usually less — and no benefits. Still, they are coming back.

“If you spent six or seven years and hundreds of thousands of dollars getting a graduate degree and you end up doing this, that is not a happy thought,” Mr. Jacobs said. “But it is steady work.”

A lot more people are getting Ph.D.s than ought to. Do they appreciate just how little some of their degrees are worth? Does getting a doctorate assure them that they are smart and wise? Or do they hold out hope they'll get one of those highly paid full professorships at the big name universities?

I see these doctorates as economic waste. Why take smarter people and convince them to spend lots of money in their 20s, go into debt, and spend years getting a credential that isn't going to provide a way to make a high salary? We shouldn't even have anywhere near as many college professors as we have anyway. The lectures of a fairly small number of professors can be video recorded and made available for viewing by anyone with an interest in a topic.

Health care is the field that most reliably grows even in recessions, mostly due to an aging population. But the economy will reach a point within 10 years where health care costs will become too large to allow continued growth at a rate faster than the economy overall. So I do not see health care as a good long term bet for job security. Though doctors will probably stay employed - albeit eventually at lower income levels.

Does anyone see an occupation which will provide job security in the long term?

By Randall Parker    2009 January 25 02:21 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (10)
2009 January 17 Saturday
More Education Dollars Go To Administration

Colleges and universities continue to become more top-heavy. Time to cut the fat.

And the percentage of the budget going to instruction declined everywhere between 1995 and 2006 — to 63 percent from 64.4 percent at public research institutions, to 50.2 percent from 52.8 percent at public community colleges, and to 38.9 percent from 40.7 percent at private bachelors colleges.

The biggest decline occurred at private research universities, where the percentage of the budget devoted to instruction went to 57.9 percent in 2006 from 62.3 percent in 1996.

Meanwhile, the share spent on administration and support increased everywhere. At public research universities, those costs consumed 28.3 percent of the budget in 2006, up from 27.7 percent in 1995. At private research institutions, they accounted for 32.9 percent of the budget, up from 30.1 percent, and at public community colleges, 37.7, up from 35.9 percent.

Administration isn't the only cost that needs cutting. We need online lectures and online standard tests for a large assortment of subjects. It is a ridiculous waste to have thousands of people stand up every semester and quarter to lecture on the same introductory material for calculus, chemistry, physics, and history. The basics can be done with recorded lectures. Live humans should only be used to answer questions. Even a lot of the Q&A could be done with live chatrooms and video feeds so that many people all over the world can hear the same answers.

The news report above relays information from the Delta Cost Project which studies educational costs.

Update: American institutions of higher education, where prices have been rising faster than overall inflation for decades, want a bail-out from Obama's fiscal stimulus package. They want to stay fat. I say time for a diet.

By Randall Parker    2009 January 17 02:41 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (1)
2009 January 01 Thursday
Universities Encourage Student Credit Card Debt For Profit

As regular readers know, I take a dim view of what has become of higher education. The old brick-and-mortar schools cost too much and are antiquated in their approach to education. But it is worse. Some universities make money by helping to get their students deep into credit card debt.

Bank of America’s relationship with the university extends well beyond marketing at sports events. The bank has an $8.4 million, seven-year contract with Michigan State giving it access to students’ names and addresses and use of the university’s logo. The more students who take the banks’ credit cards, the more money the university gets. Under certain circumstances, Michigan State even stands to receive more money if students carry a balance on these cards.

Hundreds of colleges have contracts with lenders. But at a time of rising concern about student debt — and overall consumer debt — the arrangements have sounded alarm bells, and some student groups are starting to push back.

Whatever happened to the paternalistic view that colleges should treat their students as wards to protect? I really do not think universities should exist to put people into bondage.

Too many people go to college. Too many drop out or graduate burdened with debts. Charles Murray thinks we should stop pushing students to try to learn college level material that is beyond their intellectual capability.

For most of the nation’s youths, making the bachelor’s degree a job qualification means demanding a credential that is beyond their reach. It is a truth that politicians and educators cannot bring themselves to say out loud: A large majority of young people do not have the intellectual ability to do genuine college-level work.

If you doubt it, go back and look through your old college textbooks, and then do a little homework on the reading ability of high school seniors. About 10 percent to 20 percent of all 18-year-olds can absorb the material in your old liberal arts textbooks. For engineering and the hard sciences, the percentage is probably not as high as 10.

Murray advocates for more certification tests for specific capabilities that employers need. Let people get demonstrable job skills. I think that's a good idea. I also think we need tests of college-level material that can be taken to demonstrate knowledge without enrolling in a college and physically attending classes.

Universities funded by taxpayers should put course lectures on the web for download. People should be able to watch lectures from home, study textbooks, and then take online tests to check their knowledge levels. Once they know they can pass tests for a topic they should be able to go to a testing center to take the tests with witnesses to verify they took each test. Passing grades should earn credits toward degrees or toward job skill certifications.

By Randall Parker    2009 January 01 08:52 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (3)
2008 December 27 Saturday
Some Students Graduate Deep In High Interest Rate Debt

Private sources of educational financing charge crushing high interest rates.

Natalie Hickey left her small hometown in Ohio six years ago and aimed her beat-up Dodge Intrepid for the West Coast. Four years later, she realized a long-held dream and graduated with a bachelor's degree in photography from Brooks Institute in Santa Barbara.

Higher education does not always pay off. For some the odds of pay-off are slim. I doubt that Brooks graduates get a good return on their investment.

She also picked up $140,000 in student debt, some of it at interest rates as high as 18%. Her monthly payments are roughly $1,700, more than her rent and car payment combined.

I wonder how much this contributes to the birth dearth among smarter and more educated people. Miss Hickey isn't exactly a great catch for marriage and child-rearing. A guy would have to make big money to afford to let her make babies while still servicing her school debt.

Even worse in her case an LA Times photographer tells that demand for photographers and reporters is tanking due to the internet taking ad revenue away from newspapers. The editorial staff (which I think includes all reporters and photographers) has shrunk from 1500 to 600. The Tribune company that owns the LA Times just filed for bankruptcy. So the Brooks students graduating with piles of debt are entering a buyers' market for photographers.

If you are thinking about some career before you get yourself in debt up to your neck find out what the jobs in that occupation typically pay and how hard the jobs are to get. Kids need to be told that higher education doesn't automatically pave the road to your future with gold.

By Randall Parker    2008 December 27 10:21 AM Entry Permalink | Comments (12)
2008 November 29 Saturday
Cal State University To Cut 10000 Slots In Budget Crisis

The worsening of the multi-year California state budget crisis is leading to a cut in the number of available positions for incoming students in the California State University system.

The California State University system for the first time in its history is proposing to turn away qualified students due to a worsening state budget crisis.

As part of a plan to slash its 450,000 enrollment by 10,000 students for the 2009-2010 academic year, the 23-campus system, the nation's largest, will push up application deadlines and raise the academic bar for freshmen at its most popular campuses, Chancellor Charles B. Reed said Monday.

Modest proposal: Offer more online courses. Also, video record courses so that students at all Cal State campuses can watch any course. This is pretty cheap stuff to do.

The cost of tuition in the Cal State system is pretty cheap. That's partly because the many of the classes are large. Well, why not watch those classes on pre-recorded video at the times of the students' choosing? Way more convenient. Plus, one could watch different professors at different campuses teach the same class.

Cal State currently receives $2.97 billion of its budget from the state's general fund and $1.5 billion from student fees. The system has raised fees six times in seven years. The cost of attending a Cal State college, not including housing, books and other living expenses, is about $3,800 a year.

It is a waste of labor to have someone stand up in front of a class every year at every campus and teach freshman chemistry. It is a waste of labor to do the same for basic biology, macroeconomics, microeconomics, and many other topics. Record the best lecturers on these subjects. Let students watch them. One can still offer optional extra cost discussion sections for questions.

Testing needn't be paced to a semester or trimester schedule. Develop standard online tests for these subjects. Let students file into a room with ID checks, sit down at computers, and take whatever tests they think they've prepared themselves for. This will cut the costs of lecture halls and professors. College education could be made affordable and state budget crises would cease to impact course availability and number of available slots.

The automation of education is an urgent need. Cal State Chancellor Charles B. Reed says applications to the Cal State system are up strongly. These students need video recorded lectures and online tests.

He noted that even as Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger was proposing more cuts, “applications for fall 2009 are up almost 20 percent from last year, with a 36 percent increase in applications from community college transfer students.”

“Student demand is increasing while state funding is declining,” the chancellor added.

By Randall Parker    2008 November 29 09:49 AM Entry Permalink | Comments (6)
2008 September 27 Saturday
Obama Embraces Discredited Early Childhood Education

In his first debate with John McCain liberal leftist Barack Obama demonstrated his faith in early childhood education.

The problem with a spending freeze is you're using a hatchet where you need a scalpel. There are some programs that are very important that are under funded. I went to increase early childhood education and the notion that we should freeze that when there may be, for example, this Medicare subsidy doesn't make sense.

But a recent study found little benefit from early childhood education by 8th grade. Also, the benefits of full day versus half day kindergarten fade after a few grades. A 1995 Rand Corporation study found black kids in America gain no lasting benefits from Head Start pre-kindergarten schooling.

Thus, for example, by age 10 African-American children have lost any benefits they gained from Head Start, while 10-year-old white children retain a gain of 5 percentile points. There is no evidence of a similar interaction effect among children who attend preschool.

Our results for African-Americans are thus consistent with those of earlier studies (which tended to be dominated by African-American subjects). When we focus on only young African-American Children, we find clear benefits of Head Start. However, in a sample of African-American children of all ages there is no effect of Head Start. This is because the benefits die out very quickly. In contrast white children experience the same initial gains from Head Start but they retain these benefits for a much longer period.

But for Obama and many other liberal democrats education is the universal cure-all for what ails societies. Obama showed the same delusion in his speech at 2008 Democratic National Convention Aug 27, 2008: Does he really believe this feel-good nonsense?

Michelle and I are here only because we were given a chance at an education. I will not settle for an America where some kids don't have that chance. I'll invest in early childhood education. I'll recruit an army of new teachers, pay them higher salaries and give them more support. In exchange, I'll ask for higher standards and more accountability. We'll keep our promise to every young American--if you commit to serving your community and your country, we will make sure you can afford a college education

Obama is supposed to be smarter than McCain. But what good is intelligence when ideological beliefs require that intelligence not be applied to developing an accurate understanding of reality?

Though in his debate with McCain right after he proposed spending more on early childhood education at least Obama argued to quit wasting money in Iraq.

Let me tell you another place to look for some savings. We are currently spending $10 billion a month in Iraq when they have a $79 billion surplus. It seems to me that if we're going to be strong at home as well as strong abroad, that we have to look at bringing that war to a close.

By Randall Parker    2008 September 27 12:06 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (3)
2008 September 25 Thursday
California Will Fail To Hit 2014 Educational Goal

Even a California with the demographics of 40 years ago couldn't meet the requirements of No Child Left Behind since about half the white population has an IQ less than 100. But with California's Third World demographics it is no shock to find out that California's schools can't achieve the fantasy of high competency for all students.

RIVERSIDE, Calif. – How well students and schools – from kindergarten through high school – succeed in mastering a curriculum that includes English Language Arts (ELA), mathematics, and the social and natural sciences, strongly influences how well the students fare in higher education.

In California, student mastery in ELA and mathematics is measured with the California Standards Tests (CST). To determine how the challenge of mastery is being met, a research team led by UC Riverside's Richard Cardullo examined several years of CST data.

The researchers report in the Sept. 26 issue of Science that mathematical models they used in their analysis predict that nearly all elementary schools in California will fail to meet the Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) requirements for proficiency by 2014, the year when all students in the nation need to be proficient in ELA and mathematics, per the "No Child Left Behind Act of 2001" (NCLB).

Under NCLB, AYP measures a school's progress toward meeting the goal of having 100 percent of students meet academic standards in at least reading/language arts and mathematics. AYP constitutes a series of calculated academic performance factors for each state, local education agency, school, and numerically significant student subgroup within a school.

100% of students achieving some educational goal. Imagine that fantasy which surely belongs in Lake Woebegone where all children are above average.

California's educational performance is going to deteriorate in coming years. At some point per capita income will start down a slope.

By Randall Parker    2008 September 25 11:00 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (5)
2008 August 27 Wednesday
Poorly Behaved Children Lower Learning For All

One of the characteristics of our era is the need to rediscover common sense. For example, our schools suffer from the effects of supposed expert educators who insist upon less discipline and the placement of problem children into mainstream classrooms. This and other causes of decay have necessitated flight to exurbs as people try to protect their children from schools damaged by leftist ideology. Now some UC Davis researchers have rediscovered that poorly behaved children disrupt the learning of better behaved children.

Troubled children hurt their classmates' math and reading scores and worsen their behavior, according to new research by economists at the University of California, Davis, and University of Pittsburgh.

The study, "Externalities in the Classroom: How Children Exposed to Domestic Violence Affect Everyone's Kids," was published this month by the National Bureau of Economic Research and is available online at

Scott Carrell, an assistant professor of economics at UC Davis, and co-author Mark Hoekstra, an assistant professor of economics at the University of Pittsburgh, cross-referenced standardized test results and school disciplinary records with court restraining order petitions filed in domestic violence cases for more than 40,000 students enrolled in public elementary schools in Florida's Alachua County for the years 1995 through 2003.

One rotten apple spoils the whole bunch.

Not only did children from troubled homes suffer, however: Test scores fell and behavior problems increased for their classmates as well.

Troubled boys caused the bulk of the disruption, and the largest effects were on other boys. Indeed, Carrell and Hoekstra estimate that adding just one troubled boy to a class of 20 children reduces the standardized reading and math scores of other boys in the room by nearly two percentile points. And adding just one troubled boy to a class of 20 students increases the likelihood that another boy in the class will commit a disciplinary infraction by 17 percent.

Troubled girls, in contrast, had only a small and statistically insignificant impact on the test scores or behavior of their classmates. The study did not investigate the reasons for the gender differences.

It would be reasonable to keep the trouble makers out of the classes that most children sit in. Such a change would allow most children to learn more quickly.

By Randall Parker    2008 August 27 02:15 AM Entry Permalink | Comments (9)
2008 August 18 Monday
Kindergarten Delay Provides Only Small Benefit By 8th Grade

Delaying entry of kids into kindergarten is a waste of time that just delays the entry of kids into adult roles.

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — New research challenges a growing trend toward holding kids out of kindergarten until they’re older, arguing that academic advantages are short-lived and come at the expense of delaying entry into the workforce and other costs.

The findings show older kindergartners fare better academically largely because they learn more before starting school, not because age improves aptitude, said Darren Lubotsky, a University of Illinois economics professor who co-wrote the study.

Older students post higher test scores than younger peers during the first few months of kindergarten, but their edge soon fades and nearly vanishes by eighth grade, according to the study, which will appear in the Journal of Human Resources.

The findings counter decades of research linking age to academic achievement that has led states to push back kindergarten entrance age deadlines and convinced more parents to start children later than the once-traditional age of 5.

In 2002, nearly 21 percent of 5-year-olds were not yet enrolled in kindergarten, up from less than 10 percent in 1980, according to the study, co-written by former U. of I. economist Todd Elder, now a professor at Michigan State University.

Though older students have an early edge based on an extra year of skill development, the study maintains that older and younger students learn at the same pace once they enter school, based on a review of federal education data.

The study found, for example, that older kindergartners scored 24 percentage points higher than younger peers on standardized reading tests, but the gap narrowed to less than 4 percentage points by eighth grade.

While they have a small advantage over other 8th graders they are probably lagging other kids their same age who are already in 9th grade. Those other kids will hit the job market sooner and probably will make more money total in their working lives.

Slowing up learning of kids is a really stupid trend. As I've argued previously in my post Accelerate Education To Increase Tax Revenue, Reduce Costs, we need to move kids through school more rapidly. Starting a year later works against this goal. One way to speed up the educational process is to separate instruction from testing and allow people to take standardized tests to earn credit in various subjects. Charles Murray takes a similar position in his new book Real Education: Four Simple Truths for Bringing America's Schools Back to Reality where he argues for more certification tests for a variety of occupations. He points to the CPA test for accountants as an example of this approach.

It is my understanding that the state of Virginia allows people to take the state bar exam for lawyers without first attending law school. This is another example of that same style of establishing competency to work in an occupation.

By Randall Parker    2008 August 18 10:50 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (3)
Extra Homework No Help To Most Students

Yet another unrealistic hope for turning up the performance of most students gets shot down.

BINGHAMTON, NY - While U.S students continue to lag behind many countries academically, national statistics show that teachers have responded by assigning more homework. But according to a joint study by researchers at Binghamton University and the University of Nevada, when it comes to math, piling on the homework may not work for all students.

Published in the July issue of the Econometrics Journal, researchers found that although assigning more homework tends to have a larger and more significant impact on mathematics test scores for high and low achievers, it is less effective for average achievers.

"We found that if a teacher has a high achieving group of students, pushing them harder by giving them more homework could be beneficial," said Daniel Henderson, associate professor of economics at Binghamton University. "Similarly, if a teacher has a low ability class, assigning more homework may help since they may not have been pushed hard enough. But for the average achieving classes, who may have been given too much homework in an attempt to equate them with the high achieving classes, educators could be better served by using other methods to improve student achievement. Given these students' abilities and time constraints, learning by doing may be a more effective tool for improvement."

The Bush-Kennedy legislative monstrosity known as No Child Left Behind has created pressure on schools to assign more homework in hopes of raising standardized test scores. The continuing quest to turn America into Lake Woebegone (the mythical town where all children are above average) keeps running up against the genetically determined intellectual limits of the real world students.

"There has been an extensive amount of research examining the influences of students' achievement, but it has been primarily focused on financial inputs such as class size or teachers' credentials," said Eren. "Our study examined the affect that additional homework has on test scores." While past studies suggest that nearly all students benefit from being assigned more homework Henderson and Eren discovered that only about 40% of the students surveyed would significantly benefit from an additional hour of homework each night.

According to Henderson, the findings should be of particular interest to schools who have responded to the increased pressures to pass state-mandated tests by forcing students to hit the books even harder. "This does not mean that homework is unimportant for average achievers," says Henderson. "But it does mean that this population may also benefit from other activities such as sports, art or music, rather than additional hours of math homework."

The best way to raise test scores is to make students smarter. Women could eat more salmon while pregnant and then breast feed. Both these activities will probably boost IQ by providing growing brains with more omega 3 fatty acids. Beyond that women could try harder to hook up with smarter guys in order to give their offspring smarter genes. But legislated changes in school environments aren't going to help much if at all.

The best way to improve education is to break the link between schools and certification.

By Randall Parker    2008 August 18 10:26 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (8)
2008 August 16 Saturday
US Congress Moves Toward Price Controls On Education

The United States government has poured large quantities of money into higher education. As a result prices have risen. Increases in demand often cause prices to rise. Now the morons in the US Congress are going to try to pressure colleges to ignore the extra market demand created by the government.

New legislation, expected to clear the House and Senate after press time on July 31, includes provisions designed to put pressure on colleges, universities, and states to rein in the escalating price of a college education.

The best potential for doing so, some experts say, lies in the searchable college data that the US Department of Education will post online to bring transparency to tuition rates and the "net price" students pay after receiving aid.

One set of lists would spotlight the 5 percent of institutions with the largest percentage tuition increase over the past three years – in categories such as public, private, four-year, and two-year. They would have to report to the Ed Department the reasons for the tuition hikes.

Why not address the costs of higher education by reducing the need for people to go to bricks and mortar 4 year colleges in the first place? The most obvious way to do that is to deliver more course content over the internet and to provide ways to do testing for most subjects over the internet. Recorded lectures and automated testing software could greatly reduce the labor needed to deliver courses. People all over the country or all over the world could watch the same lectures and take the same tests. The cost reductions due to economies of scale will be enormous.

The US Congress wants to force states to keep up college level spending even when recessions happen. Congress does not want cost reductions.

To push states to do their part, the law requires that their higher education funding each year be at least as much as their previous five-year average (excluding capital and research and development). Such "maintenance of effort" provisions are common in K-12, but this sets a new precedent in higher education, Mr. Hartle says.

As the federal government increases student aid, "states should not see that as an opportunity to take their own funding out at the bottom," says Rachel Racusen, spokeswoman for the House Education and Labor Committee. Last fall, Congress provided about $20 billion in federal aid for students over the next five years.

The government aid reduces the incentive to develop lower cost ways of delivering college courses. The US government impedes educational innovation. There's no need for thousands of people every year to deliver first year calculus lectures or lectures on differential and partial differential equations. There's no need for thousands of introductory physics courses or organic chemistry courses or accounting courses. Lectures on these and many other subjects could be delivered over the web for much lower cost.

A more automated electronic approach to education would not just lower costs. It would also provide much greater convenience since people could watch web prerecorded lectures at their own pace and at the times of their choosing.

Update: An article in the Christian Science Monitor focused on the drive of colleges to recruit more students from low income families (in part to get around legal obstacles to the use of racial preferences for blacks and Hispanics) describes efforts by Amherst College to boost enrollment of low-income students. The amazing thing: Amherst claims that it costs $80k to feed, house, and educate each student. This shows how far costs have gotten out of control at colleges.

Some parents wonder if their child might be paying more to subsidize low-income students, Parker says, but that's not the case, because funding for financial aid primarily comes from colleges' endowments. Many donors, in fact, dedicate their endowment gifts to financial aid. Even students who pay the full price of tuition, fees, and room and board – about $47,000 – aren't paying the full amount it costs for the college to house and educate each student, which adds up to nearly $80,000.

That number shows why automated education is the solution. More subsidies for colleges will just further bloat their already bloated cost structures.

Update: I've been arguing for years that automated delivery of standard tests across the internet could enable testing and teaching to be sold as separate services and that this could cut enormously cut the costs of education while making it more convenient and tailored to individual needs. Charles Murray has now written a book entitled Real Education: Four Simple Truths for Bringing America's Schools Back to Reality where Murray makes the case for certified examines to demonstrate subject mastery modeled after the CPA examination.

The model is the CPA exam that qualifies certified public accountants. The same test is used nationwide. It is thorough -- four sections, timed, totaling 14 hours. A passing score indicates authentic competence (the pass rate is below 50%). Actual scores are reported in addition to pass/fail, so that employers can assess where the applicant falls in the distribution of accounting competence. You may have learned accounting at an anonymous online university, but your CPA score gives you a way to show employers you're a stronger applicant than someone from an Ivy League school.

The merits of a CPA-like certification exam apply to any college major for which the BA is now used as a job qualification. To name just some of them: criminal justice, social work, public administration and the many separate majors under the headings of business, computer science and education. Such majors accounted for almost two-thirds of the bachelor's degrees conferred in 2005. For that matter, certification tests can be used for purely academic disciplines. Why not present graduate schools with certifications in microbiology or economics -- and who cares if the applicants passed the exam after studying in the local public library?

Certification tests need not undermine the incentives to get a traditional liberal-arts education. If professional and graduate schools want students who have acquired one, all they need do is require certification scores in the appropriate disciplines. Students facing such requirements are likely to get a much better liberal education than even our most elite schools require now.

Read the full article for more details. This approach would provide many advantages. For example, a smart adolescent kid in a rural town bored out of his mind in grade school and high school (I'm thinking of my childhood) could watch lectures on the internet and study and then take tests to start earning certificates of mastery of subjects years before graduating from high school. State governments could fund the recording of lectures at state colleges to make them freely downloadable (or charge a fee) so that someone could watch all the courses in a college without ever setting foot on a bricks and mortar campus.

People could pace their own education. If you wanted to learn at a very fast rate you could watch all the courses in a year of organic chemistry in a couple of weeks of very long hours of watching. Or you could watch every lecture produced by a big college history department in several months of long hours. Or you could spend a couple of months watching nursing lectures to help you decide whether you wanted to become a nurse.

Bricks and mortar colleges and universities will still survive as research centers and also for teaching advanced subjects that are constantly changing. But we currently employ easily an order of magnitude more people in higher education than would be needed if we embraced recorded lectures and certificate exams for most subjects.

By Randall Parker    2008 August 16 10:27 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (3)
2008 August 14 Thursday
Upper Classes Pulling Ahead On School Test Scores In Britain

A big British Labour government spending program to raise student performance in government funded schools is failing to close the gap with private schools.

A-level results published on Thursday reveal record numbers of sixth-formers gained top grades this year. Fewer than three in every 100 exams was failed as the pass rate rose for the 26th year in a row and for the first time more than half of entries were awarded A or B grades.

Perhaps this result comes as a consequence of more mating between people of similar intellectual abilities and personality types. Greater mobility and greater education of smarter women puts smarter women and smarter men more in each other's company.

Despite a £28 billion-a-year increase in education spending under Labour, analysis of the results shows improvements are driven almost entirely by the success of the independent sector and selective grammar schools.

Figures published by the Joint Council for Qualifications showed the gulf between private schools and comprehensives widened over the last six years - just as Labour's education reforms should have been paying dividends.

I like the "should have been paying dividends". Why? Why expect more money spent on education to raise student performance? Hope springs eternal. But reality suggests this expectation is very unrealistic.

The smarter upper class folks who make enough money to pay for private education are having smarter kids (the apple doesn't fall far from the genetic tree) and those kids are pulling ahead of the dumber masses.

The independent sector saw a 9.1 percentage point increase in the number of A grades awarded between 2002 and 2008 - from 41.3 per cent to 50.4 per cent. Over the same period, top grades in comprehensives increased by 3.9 points to 20.4 per cent.

I see a ray of hope in all this. The smarties are managing to separate their kids from the dumber masses and not letting foolish and wrong egalitarian educational ideals from holding back the intellectual development of their children.

By Randall Parker    2008 August 14 09:30 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (6)
2008 July 15 Tuesday
Full Day Kindergarten Brings No Lasting Benefit

Yet another educational panacea gets discredited (except the results will be ignored).

Children in full-day kindergarten have slightly better reading and math skills than children in part-day kindergarten, but these initial academic benefits diminish soon after the children leave kindergarten. This loss is due, in part, to issues related to poverty and the quality of children's home environments.

Blame poverty. That's the ticket. We'll always have people who have less money than other people. So poverty is always available as a handy excuse.

Those are the findings from a new study by researchers at the University of Pittsburgh and Loyola University Chicago. Published in the July/August 2008 issue of the journal Child Development, the study sheds light on policy discussions as full-day kindergarten programs become increasingly common in the United States.

The use of full day kindergartens will continue to grow because blacks and Hispanics are increasing percentages of the total population and they do more poorly in school than East Asians, whites, and south Asians. The desire to do something, anything to close the scholastic performance gap means longer school days, longer school years, more teaching assistants, more standardized tests, any all the other ways to spend more money that educational "reformers" can pretend will help.

The kids in part-day kindergartens did better. But how did the kids in part-day kindergartens from poor families do as compared to kids from equally poor families that attended full day kindergartens?

Using data on 13,776 children from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study—Kindergarten Class of 1998-1999, a study of a nationally representative group of kindergartners, the researchers measured children's academic achievement in math and reading in the fall and spring of their kindergarten and first-grade years, and in the spring of their third- and fifth-grade years. The researchers also looked at the type and extent of child care the children received outside of kindergarten, the quality of cognitive stimulation the children received at home, and the poverty level of the children's families.

Overall, the study found that the reading and math skills of children in full-day kindergarten grew faster from the fall to the spring of their kindergarten year, compared to the academic skills of children in part-day kindergarten.

However, the study also found that the full-day kindergarteners' gains in reading and math did not last far beyond the kindergarten year. In fact, from the spring of their kindergarten year through fifth grade, the academic skills of children in part-day kindergarten grew faster than those of children in full-day kindergarten, with the advantage of full-day versus part-day programs fading by the spring of third grade. The fade-out can be explained, in part, by the fact that the children in part-day kindergarten were less poor and had more stimulating home environments than those in full-day programs, according to the study.

But not all those kids in part-day kindergartens were from less poor homes. How'd the poor ones do?

By Randall Parker    2008 July 15 06:39 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (8)
2008 July 03 Thursday
Younger College Faculty Seen As More Moderate

The younger faculty in American universities and colleges think of themselves as more moderate than their predecessors.

In general, information on professors’ political and ideological leanings tends to be scarce. But a new study of the social and political views of American professors by Neil Gross at the University of British Columbia and Solon Simmons at George Mason University found that the notion of a generational divide is more than a glancing impression. “Self-described liberals are most common within the ranks of those professors aged 50-64, who were teenagers or young adults in the 1960s,” they wrote, making up just under 50 percent. At the same time, the youngest group, ages 26 to 35, contains the highest percentage of moderates, some 60 percent, and the lowest percentage of liberals, just under a third.

Keep in mind that they are labeling themselves as moderates based on a scale that is leftward shifted relative to the American population. Their idea of moderate still means voting for Democrats.

They aren't as activist. But tenure is a lot harder to get and the pursuit of tenure leaves little time for activism. Plus, more of the faculty are women who are less extreme and more practically oriented than men.

When it comes to those who consider themselves “liberal activists,” 17.2 percent of the 50-64 age group take up the banner compared with only 1.3 percent of professors 35 and younger.

“These findings with regard to age provide further support for the idea that, in recent years, the trend has been toward increasing moderatism,” the study says.

The authors are not talking about a political realignment. Democrats continue to overwhelmingly outnumber Republicans among faculty, young and old.

What is not said: Are the younger faculty in the social sciences and humanities any different in their positions on political issues? Are they just as likely to support, say, mandatory government-provided health care? Are they as likely to support Robin Hood taxes and social programs? My guess is yes.

But the New York Times, showing little sign of moderation, can not resist an opportunity to get in a plug for Barack Obama.

But as educators have noted, the generation coming up appears less interested in ideological confrontations, summoning Barack Obama’s statement about the elections of 2000 and 2004: “I sometimes felt as if I were watching the psychodrama of the Baby Boom generation — a tale rooted in old grudges and revenge plots hatched on a handful of college campuses long ago — played out on the national stage.”

Obama wrote up a psychodrama of his own in a book centered around his race.

The growing fields in academia are more firmly grounded in science and technology and attract more realistic people.

Changes in institutions of higher education themselves are reinforcing the generational shuffle. Health sciences, computer science, engineering and business — fields that have tended to attract a somewhat greater proportion of moderates and conservatives — have grown in importance and size compared with the more liberal social sciences and humanities, where many of the bitterest fights over curriculum and theory occurred.

The harder sciences are producing results that undermine ideological positions. What is the nature of the human mind and how and why do humans differ from each other? Neuroscientists and geneticists can offer more insight than radical left wing sociologists. The younger sociologists know that they have lower status than physicists and neurobiologists because their field has been far less quantitative and rigorous. They'd like to get some of that higher status.

By Randall Parker    2008 July 03 08:33 AM Entry Permalink | Comments (8)
2008 June 01 Sunday
Massachusetts Legislators Threaten To Tax College Endowments

Harvard especially has grown conspicuously wealthy and can accumulate massive amounts of money tax free.

"Two things are on a collision course: The public anxiety about the cost and affordability of college is very, very high, while [wealthy institutions] ... are sitting on what appears to be huge pots of money," says Patrick Callan, president of the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education in San Jose, Calif.

The Massachusetts proposal would impose a 2.5 percent tax on the portion of endowments above $1 billion.

"There is an exorbitant amount of wealth that has been generated with these endowments, especially in the case of Harvard and MIT," about $35 billion and $10 billion, respectively, says state Rep. Paul Kujawski (D), who proposed the tax plan in part because the state is facing a $1.3 billion budget gap. "When is a nonprofit considered not a nonprofit?" he asks.

A few points: Huge amounts of money flow into Harvard from donors just to make their endowment even larger. Plus, Harvard is able to hire great fund managers who get high returns on investments for the endowment. Those fund managers might get a lot of useful tips from well-placed Harvard alumni. How else to account for the stellar returns on the Harvard endowment?

Harvard is just accumulating the money. If you want to donate to making education better Harvard is the wrong choice for a donation. They do not need their endowment for operations. It is just a huge status symbol.

If you want to fund research then fund individual labs. If you want to fund education then donate money to create high res video college course lectures downloadable on the web. You'll reach more people and do it for very low cost. Then fund some of the poorer small colleges to do web-based testing of students and periodic in-person testing to then grant college credit to whoever wants to try learning over the web.

Harvard provides a place for a small number of very bright people to go to school. The main benefit of the place is a combination of the connections formed with ambitious people and the ability to signal to everyone else that you were smart enough to get into Harvard. Any potential superiority of actual content of the courses is far less important assuming said superiority of courses even exists there.

Update: The Ivies are internationalizing in a big way. When will Americans become a minority at Columbia University?

Harvard’s 3,546 international students ranked behind Columbia University (5,278) and the University of Pennsylvania (3,712) in the Ivy League, but was almost double the number of foreign students at Yale University.

By Randall Parker    2008 June 01 06:30 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (4)
2008 May 10 Saturday
Education Financial Bubble Bursting?

Writing for the Wall Street Journal George Anders argues rising student loan default rates suggest America is in an "education bubble".

Has the U.S. created an "education bubble" fueled by easy money and overborrowing by families desperate to pay rising tuition costs?

Expect a hastily sputtered "no way" from economists, university officials and student-lending specialists. They attach a high monetary value to academic degrees, no matter how fast tuition rises. As proof, they cite the big and growing income gap between college graduates and people with just a high-school degree.

The problem with the income gap measurement: Other qualities of college attendees are responsible for much of it:

  • The smarts needed to get into college and do college work.
  • The discipline needed to do college work.
  • The motivation and drive for greater success that cause people to want that college degree.
  • Employers use the college degree requirement to allow them to justify not hiring from some groups of people.

People who have the smarts, discipline, and motivation for success are going to do better regardless of whether they go to college. Granted, some college attendees learn some useful skills in college. But a lot of people earn their livings doing things unrelated to almost everything they learned in college.

This bursting financial bubble is a positive development which will cause less demand for education and hence limit tuition increases. Higher educational institutions waste huge amounts of resources. Some market discipline will force them to cut costs. Student loan providers are getting hit by rising defaults and even bankruptcies.

First Marblehead Corp. shares fell sharply Friday after the student-loan services provider reported a quarterly loss, as the market for bundles of loans stayed frozen.

The Boston company's stock dropped 25 cents, or 7 percent, to $3.47 in afternoon trading. In the past year, it has ranged from $3.12 to $42.50.

Bank of America decided to stop doing business with First Marblehead after private loan insurer The Education Resources Institute (TERI) filed for bankruptcy. First Marblehead now has lots of risks that it can't push off on an insurer. JPMorgan Chase looks likely to follow Bank of America and cut off First Marblehead dealings as well. First Marblehead just reported a $229.6 million loss.

Student loan availability has dropped.

Students in the United States have lost access to more than $6.7 billion a year in education loans since private lenders fled the market, spurring schools including Pennsylvania State University and Northeastern University to turn to the Education Department's Direct Loan Program.

Availability is dropping for a variety of types of student loans.

Hardest hit by the nation's economic woes is the single cheapest education loan, the 5 percent Perkins loan. Colleges surveyed by U.S. News said they are cutting the number and size of Perkins loans they offer students by anywhere from 10 to 50 percent.

And dozens of lenders who offered comparatively good deals on the 6.8 percent student Stafford loans and 8.5 percent parent plus loans last year have stopped making loans entirely. Surprisingly, at least a dozen lenders have also stopped making private loans, too, even though they can charge market rates that cover their costs. "I cannot get anybody to finance any alternative loans," says René Drouin of the New Hampshire Higher Education Assistance Foundation.

We need to move toward more automated ways to deliver educational services. Lectures should be pre-recorded. Tests should be delivered via automated web interfaces. Labor productivity in education is abysmally low and that needs to change. Tying up lots of smart people as college professors wastes a dwindling pool of smart people who would be better used in industry.

By Randall Parker    2008 May 10 09:39 AM Entry Permalink | Comments (5)
2008 April 06 Sunday
Official High School Drop Out Rates Understate Problem

Educational bureaucracies lie. What, teachers don't operate noble institutions?

One team of statisticians working at the state education headquarters here recently calculated the official graduation rate at a respectable 87 percent, which Mississippi reported to Washington. But in another office piled with computer printouts, a second team of number crunchers came up with a different rate: a more sobering 63 percent.

One third of the kids in California drop out of school. Such are the wages of Third World immigration.

Like Mississippi, many states use an inflated graduation rate for federal reporting requirements under the No Child Left Behind law and a different one at home. As a result, researchers say, federal figures obscure a dropout epidemic so severe that only about 70 percent of the one million American students who start ninth grade each year graduate four years later.

California, for example, sends to Washington an official graduation rate of 83 percent but reports an estimated 67 percent on a state Web site. Delaware reported 84 percent to the federal government but publicized four lower rates at home.

The No Child Left Behind law actually increases the incentive for schools to discourage kids from attending. A dumb kid who drops out is a dumb kid who won't pull down standardized test scores.

The lies and counterproductive educational policies will continue until cheap genetic testing allows scientists to discover the genetic alleles that cause intelligence differences. Once the low performers can be shown to have genetically caused lower cognitive abilities our elites will finally have to admit that most kids can't do college level work and a substantial portion can't even do high school senior level academic work.

By Randall Parker    2008 April 06 10:41 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (2)
2008 March 10 Monday
Universities See Brain Shortage Upcoming

They will of course continue to deny that genetic potentials have anything to do with their looming shortage of smart young minds.

Colleges and universities are anxiously taking steps to address a projected drop in the number of high school graduates in much of the nation starting next year and a dramatic change in the racial and ethnic makeup of the student population, a phenomenon expected to transform the country's higher education landscape, educators and analysts said.

I doubt the increase in smarter Asians will offset the effects of more Hispanics.

The United States can't maintain its position in the world with a decaying demographic situation. Most of all we need brains and lots of them to keep the economy growing and to stay on the technological edge.

Colleges and universities, much like American corporations, will increase their drive to reach a global marketplace of prospective customers. They will of course pretend not to notice their need to go abroad to get the brains as they trumpet the glories of diversity.

By Randall Parker    2008 March 10 11:27 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (65)
2008 March 01 Saturday
Smaller Classes Help Smarter Kids More

The left-liberal standard social science model leaves its believers continually baffled by easily explainable observations.

EVANSTON, Ill. --- A Northwestern University study investigating the effects of class size on the achievement gap between high and low academic achievers suggests that high achievers benefit more from small classes than low achievers, especially at the kindergarten and first grade levels.

The faithful believers in the supremacy of current environment (as compared to past selective pressures and genetic differences) think that somehow or other they can change environment and make the lower performers into higher performers. But if we just accept the overwhelming evidence that some kids are smarter than others then suddenly the world becomes so much easier to understand. High achievers are smarter, on average, than lower achievers.

Possessed with the obvious truth that some are smarter than others we can explain this reported result. Smaller classes reduce the disruptive effects of hyperactive and poorly behaving kids (fewer kids mean fewer interruptions). So more hours in the classroom get used for teaching. Well, smart kids absorb more per unit of teaching. So smarter kids become knowledgeable more rapidly than mentally slower kids given the same number of hours spent receiving instruction.

Yet another hope for how to close the achievement gap fails.

“While decreasing class size may increase achievement on average for all types of students, it does not appear to reduce the achievement gap within a class,” said Spyros Konstantopoulos, assistant professor at Northwestern’s School of Education and Social Policy.

Konstantopoulos’ study, which appears in the March issue of Elementary School Journal, questions commonly held assumptions about class size and the academic achievement gap -- one of the most debated and perplexing issues in education today.

The academic achievement gap is perplexing? Really? Professors of education and social policy are perplexed by easily understood phenomena? How long will the standard social science model survive? When will academics embrace reality about the human mind and genes? We differ greatly in our intellectual abilities due to genetic differences. Accept this obvious truth and the world becomes such a more comprehensible place.

Update: Steve Sailer points to a WSJ article where experts can't figure out why Finns do so well on international scholastic tests. Says Steve:

Gosh, I wonder what the reason could be. I'm totally baffled. It's not like Minnesota kids usually score near the top of the NAEP tests in America.

Oh, wait, they do…

Steve, why compare to Finland to Minnesota? I'm like totally baffled. They are on different continents in different cultures and all right thinking (er, left thinking) people know that only culture and not genetics matters,.

By Randall Parker    2008 March 01 10:25 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (13)
2007 December 05 Wednesday
Ivy League Gets Steadily Richer

The trend in finance for higher education mirrors the trend of increasing inequality of distribution of wealth and is at least partially drive by it.

Meanwhile, the wealth gap between the Ivies and everyone else has never been wider. The $5.7 billion in investment gains generated by Harvard's endowment for the year that ended June 30 exceeded the total endowment assets of all but six U.S. universities, five of which were Ivy Plus: Yale, Stanford, Princeton, MIT, and Columbia. Ivy dominance extends to fund-raising. A mere 10 schools accounted for half the growth in donations to all U.S. colleges and universities last year. All of the top five on the list were Ivies, led by Stanford, which set a record for higher education in 2006, collecting $911 million in gifts.

During 2006-07, the Ivy "Big Three"—Harvard, Yale, and Princeton—collectively spent $6.5 billion on operations, up over 100% from a decade ago. This was more than double the 41% average budget increase for all U.S. colleges and universities over this period and quadruple the 26% rise in the consumer price index. The Big Three sank a further $1.2 billion into new construction and other capital spending last year. "Yale is wealthier now, so we can add resources in almost every dimension," says its president, Richard C. Levin.

The people who attend the Ivy League are selected for in large part for their future prospects for success. This becomes a virtuous cycle (at least for the Ivies) as very successful alumni make big donations to their alma mater which increase the prestige of these schools and hence their appeal to those who are most likely to achieve big successes in business and finance.

What I wonder: Could second tier schools more precisely target the future wealthy and get a competitive edge against the top tier? Consider, the top tier hobble their institutions with racial preferences and wide humanities and social sciences offerings as well as other majors that do not give as big a leg up on the road to success. A more narrowly focused institution could profile prospective students more narrowly based on odds of financial success.

The second tier could also shape their general education offerings and programs for internships with the single-minded aim at getting their students aimed at investment banks, venture capital start-ups, and other higher potential careers. Why train future botanists when you can train future genetic engineers and medical doctors? Recruit students who claim they want to start their own business.

What I also wonder: Are these huge donations to the Ivies a waste? The billions of dollars can't be improving the quality of undergraduate instruction all that much. Some of those donations just go toward making the undegraduate experience more plush. So that part's a waste. But the portion that goes toward science buildings and higher pay for research superstars pulls smarter people into research and outfits those people with more of what they need to perform.

To the extent that Ivy fund raisers get rich people to fund R&D who otherwise would spend that money on conspicuous consumption (or even worse: leave their money to heirs who then become unproductive) the Ivies are serving a constructive purpose. But if wealthy people want to speed up the rate of research in some area of interest they ought to think about more efficient ways to do that. For example, fund highly talented young researchers regardless of which institution they are at.

By Randall Parker    2007 December 05 10:46 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (4)
2007 November 15 Thursday
Some Colleges Charge No Tuition

BusinessWeek has an interesting article about a small number of colleges which charge no tuition.

They range from an urban college like the Cooper Union in New York's East Village to Deep Springs College, a remote, all-male school deep in the California desert. Many are specialized institutions, often focusing on engineering, such as the F.W. Olin College of Engineering in Needham, Mass.; or on music, like the Curtis Institute in Pennsylvania. A handful—the College of the Ozarks or Berea College in Kentucky—have mandatory work-study programs. Perhaps the most well-known of them is the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, N.Y., which offers free college tuition in exchange for five years of service after graduation.

Students who attend these schools walk away from college with little to no loans, debt, and financial worries after they graduate. In most cases, the only fee students need to pay is room and board, a cost separate from college tuition.

Cooper Union College in New York City has a $600 million endowment it uses to pay full tuition costs of students. This puts Cooper Union in an interesting position: It is its own biggest customer. Therefore it has an incentive to keep its own costs down. I would be very interested to see how its costs compare to the costs of similar sized colleges that offer similar courses of study.

Higher education costs so much in large part because it is so labor intensive. This suggests the most obvious way to cut costs: reduce labor needs. How? Stop delivering most courses live. Use high quality video recordings instead. Also, use online tests. Make the delivery of instruction and the testing of students totally automated.

Check out a slide show of tuition-free colleges. This seems like an attractive option for those who want to study engineering. Some of the engineering schools in the slide show have fairly high admissions standards.

By Randall Parker    2007 November 15 10:25 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (14)
2007 November 10 Saturday
Teachers Compete With Text Messaging For Attention

Columbia University journalism school professor Samuel Freedman, writing in the New York Times, reports that teachers increasingly find themselves competing with electronic gadgets for the attention of their students.

All the advances schools and colleges have made to supposedly enhance learning — supplying students with laptops, equipping computer labs, creating wireless networks — have instead enabled distraction. Perhaps attendance records should include a new category: present but otherwise engaged.

In the past three years alone, the percentage of college classrooms with wireless service has nearly doubled, to 60 percent from 31 percent, according to the Campus Computing Survey, an annual check by the Campus Computing Project of computer use at 600 colleges. Professor Bugeja’s online survey of several hundred Iowa State students found that a majority had used their cellphones, sent or read e-mail, and gone onto social-network sites during class time. A quarter of the respondents admitted they were taking Professor Bugeja’s survey while sitting in a different class.

Isn't this an argument for delivering lectures as recorded videos? If lecturers really are competing with Blackberry chats and web site reading in real time shouldn't lectures cease to get delivered in real time? Let students start and stop lecture playback during the slices of time when the students want to pay attention.

Scheduled lectures amount to an assertion of an absolute top level of priority at class times by lecturing teachers for the attention of students. Why make those times be the only times you can hear the material? I do not see this absolute rigidity of scheduling as serving a productive purpose.

Professor Michael Bugeja, who teaches journalism at Iowa State University, wants contemplative students. Um, good luck with that one.

“Education requires contemplation,” he continued. “It requires critical thinking. What we may be doing now is training a generation of air-traffic controllers rather than scholars. And I do know I’m going to lose.”

Seems to me that the new media formats are what Prof. Bugeja's students are going to end up writing for. They are immersing themselves in the new media while in class in spite of their professor. That seems like the professor's mistake. I can understand why the teachers object. The professors want to engage in exchanges with their students where their students react to what they've just been taught. Okay, how about doing this in a more modern fashion? How about moving those exchanges online and let those exchanges happen at more irregular times of the day? Create chat rooms for Blackberry exchanges about course topics.

Another option for schools: Create class rooms that block out most cellular signals. Don't want the students distracted? Remove their ability to communicate with anyone not in a classroom. Oh, and while you are at it: Build concert halls that block cellphone signals. Then we can sit in concerts without hearing the sound of cellphones ringing.

By Randall Parker    2007 November 10 02:20 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (7)
2007 October 15 Monday
College Admissions Coach Earns Big Money

Private college admissions coach Michele Hernandez charges as much as $40,000 to help students get into top colleges. Hernandez says she makes nearly $1 million per year helping kids get into the Ivy League.

What makes her own story so compelling is that Hernandez is an insider-turned-outcast. A former admissions officer at Dartmouth College, she dared to reveal secrets of the opaque selection process in her book, A Is for Admission: The Insider's Guide to Getting Into the Ivy League and Other Top Colleges, and then to build a thriving business that helps people game the system. As she says to parents: "You don't want to pay $180,000 for some piddling school when, by spending a little extra, your kid could get into Yale." She insinuates herself so deeply into her students' lives and is so unabashed about her money-making that she has come to be regarded either as operating at the leading edge of her profession or its cynical extreme.

She claims a very high success rate. But if so she's probably picky about who she takes on as clients. Plus, the parents who have the money to pony up are smarter on average and therefore have smarter kids on average.

I can see that she can show the students how to write a more appealing application and direct them toward extra-curricular activities that look great to Ivy admissions officers. She might also be very motivational and drive kids to study harder in high school. But there's a limit to how much training courses can boost the crucial SAT scores. Still, I would expect kids who follow her advice to get into higher ranked schools than they otherwise would manage to get accepted to.

She structures the lives of her students.

Families pay Hernandez as much as they do because she promises not just substitute parenting but parenting in the extreme. She selects classes for students, reviews their homework, and prods them to make an impression on teachers. She checks on the students' grades, scores, rankings. She tells parents when to hire tutors and then makes sure the kids do the extra work. She vets their vacation schedules. She plans their summers.

She's also written other books that help to promote her to parents: Middle School Years : Achieving the Best Education for Your Child, Grades 5-8 and Acing the College Application: How to Maximize Your Chances for Admission to the College of Your Choice (Acing the College Application). So she's marketing herself through books in order to recruit customers that she markets to colleges. Then the kids use their college degrees to market themselves to prospective employers.

Our lives seem more driven by marketing than was the case in the past. Hernandez shifted her own marketing efforts toward increasingly younger kids going back to 8th and 9th graders in order to provide more time in which to shape each kid into a brand. Yes, you aren't just a kid growing up. You are developing your own unique brand. She calls it "Brand Me". A life lived to create a brand to sell to college admissions officers. Wow.

Are these kids getting trained for jobs in advertising agencies?

By Randall Parker    2007 October 15 07:42 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (6)
2007 September 06 Thursday
Pay Kids For School Performance?

Our rulers are desperate to turn all kids into Lake Woebegone children who are all above average.

New York City is about to start paying some of its students for good grades: A perfect score on a state exam will pay fourth-graders $25. Exemplary attendance will also bring a reward.

There's an obvious glaring problem with this approach: A reward for a top score is no incentive to the vast bulk of the students because few are smart enough to achieve perfect scores no matter how hard they study. Financial incentives for study should be based on the intelligence level of each kid. A smart kid should have a much higher bar of knowledge to achieve to earn a reward than a dumber student. But our liberal elites have decided we can't think of people as innately different in ability. IQ is taboo even as the liberals are fascinated by the topic. Now that discussions of sexual desires and behavior are out in the open IQ has replaced sex as the unmentionable topic that everyone thinks about.

How to reward kids that already get everything?

I started to take in a big gulp of air. Would every goal attained by my two children fetch a reward? A high GPA? A good class ranking? Would sports achievements be included in this reward system: soccer goals, touchdowns, runs-batted-in? What about orchestra? Would first chair pay more than second? I'd be broke by eighth-grade graduation.

Then I thought of the family down the block with the five kids, their basement overflowing with multiple sets of Polly Pockets and American Girl Dolls, their yard littered with trampolines and electric scooters.

Parents who want to reward for performance are going to have to give their kids fewer gifts in order to leave more things available to be earned.

We are probably less than 10 years from discovering the genes that govern intelligence. Once that happens will it become technically possible to select among embryos to choose ones which will produce smarter children. At that point I expect most of the energy directed at trying to improve school student performance will be redirected toward promoting eugenics.

By Randall Parker    2007 September 06 11:03 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (4)
2007 August 24 Friday
Students Practice Foreign Languages On Internet Phones

People from different countries practice each others' languages using cheap internet phones.

Maurice Acker, a junior at Marquette University in Milwaukee, practices Spanish with natives from Spain every Friday morning at the school's language lab. They talk about sports, cultural differences – the usual stuff of student conversations – but there's a twist: Mr. Acker has never met any of his conversational partners in person.

That's because Marquette's Spanish and Italian curriculums use Skype, a free Internet phone service, to connect students with "language partners" all over the world.

Typically, students practice Spanish for 25 minutes and then switch to English for 25 minutes (it's an exchange: Their partners want to practice speaking English). All the students need is an Internet connection, a webcam, a microphone, and headphones.

"I feel more comfortable speaking in class than I did before," says Acker, who adds that his conversations over Skype have helped his Spanish improve much faster than drills in class.

Students don't need to all come to the same room to do this. They can do it from any location that has a broadband connection.

Imagine something like this approach applied to other subjects. Why not form virtual communities online that debate and discuss an assortment of course topics. Want to learn Greek philosophers? Roman history? Macroeconomics? Study discussion groups could form virtually to allow people to chat with each other about topics they are learning. Then they could take online tests to see if they've learned enough to earn college credits.

Lectures will still have a place. But most lectures can be recorded. You could take a practice test and then in the areas you are weak you could listen to lectures, register indicating an interest in discussions on those topics, and do exercises in interactive learning software.

By Randall Parker    2007 August 24 07:56 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (1)
2007 August 16 Thursday
Low Confidence Learners New Code Term For Dummies

We all prize innovation, and with good reason. Innovations improve the quality of our lives and enrich our experience. Innovations often solve practical problems we face in our daily lives. Well, education is marked by a real deficiency in innovation where schools and colleges keep doing things the same old ways because they enjoy oligopoly power and an excessive amount of respect. So it is always a happy thing when an innovation manages to emerge in educational institutions. Our schools sorely need more innovation. We should therefore celebrate as an Oklahoma math teacher writes to Steve Sailer to report on a new breakthrough in educational terminology, an innovation that enables greater communication in educational settings. "low confidence leaners" is an innovative new euphemism in educational circles that provides teachers and our liberal press a way to refer to dumb people as a category without mentioning that they are dumb.

"At my professional development class for math teachers, I'm starting to hear the term "low confidence learners" as a euphemism for the d*mb kids.

Note how this teacher spells dumb: d*mb. Yes, dumb is a 4 letter word. No wonder we aren't supposed to call people dumb, no matter how dumb they might be.

"I think this is great! Having a euphemism for the single biggest reality that we teachers wrestle with everyday -- some kids are smarter than others -- means that at least the concept is officially thinkable. Before we had a euphemism, we had to pretend that everybody was equal in their math capabilities, which was hugely dysfunctional from a teaching standpoint in all sorts of ways, as you can easily imagine.

I think this is a great euphemism whose use should be promoted. We need a way to refer to dummies. I hope you will all do your part and find ways to refer to low confidence learners in everyday conversations.

Another related term used in educational circles: self efficacy. It is kind of like self esteem but with more of an educational branding. So "educators" can refer to self esteem while maintaining their distinct brand identification.

If reality can sneak in through euphemisms at least it can be discussed. Though we really need purer doses of reality in order to make sense of the world around us. I know very bright people who are closet realists about human nature and human biodiversity. Yet since they can't fully articulate their private thoughts they trip up and make mistakes in their reasoning that they wouldn't make if they could be more honest in intellectual discussions. Most of these people won't use ridiculous euphemisms either.

By Randall Parker    2007 August 16 06:28 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (2)
2007 July 30 Monday
No Child Left Behind Act No Help On Learning Trends?

The No Child Left Behind (NCLB) law, which Ted Kennedy and George W. Bush cooked up to improve education in America, does not appear to have changed the rate of improvement in test scores.

WASHINGTON, D.C., July 30, 2007 – As Congress reviews federal efforts to boost student performance, new research published in Educational Researcher (ER) reports that progress in raising test scores was stronger before No Child Left Behind was approved in 2002, compared with the four years following enactment of the law.

The article “Gauging Growth: How to Judge No Child Left Behind?” is authored by Bruce Fuller, Joseph Wright, Kathryn Gesicki, and Erin Kang, and is one of four featured works published in the current issue of ER—a peer-reviewed scholarly journal of the American Educational Research Association.

One explanation for this result is that in the years before the act was put into place schools had already squeezed most of the learning improvements possible for dumber students. Though these academics aren't going to entertain that idea.

Proficiency levels for 4th graders improved in math but worsened in reading.

The university team focused on 12 states, including Arkansas, California, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Nebraska, New Jersey, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Texas, and Washington. They selected these states because they are demographically diverse, geographically dispersed, and were able to provide comparable test score data over time.

Following passage of the ‘No Child’ law, federal reading scores among elementary school students declined in the 12 states tracked by the researchers – after climbing steadily during the 1990s.

The share of fourth-graders proficient in reading, based on federal NAEP results, climbed by one-half a percentage point each year, on average, between the mid-1990s and 2002. But over the four years after the legislation was passed, the share of students deemed proficient declined by about one percent.

The annual rise in the percentage of fourth-graders proficient in mathematics improved slightly in the same 12 states, moving up from 1.6 percent per year before ‘No Child’ was signed to a yearly growth rate of 2.5 percent following enactment of the law. This is the one out of six federal gauges where a post-NCLB gain was observed by the research team, tracking NAEP results.

To understand what is really going on we need to look at the data broken down by race.

The full text of the study is available in PDF format.

The dismal record for NCLB outlined above comes at a cost. Time spent teaching other subjects has been cut back in order to produce the meager to nonexistent scholastic improvements.

WASHINGTON – July 25, 2007 – A majority of the nation’s school districts report that they have increased time for reading and math in elementary schools since the No Child Left Behind Act became law in 2002, while time spent on other subjects has fallen by nearly one-third during the same time, according to a report from the Washington, D.C.-based Center on Education Policy.

The report, based on a nationally representative survey of nearly 350 school districts, finds that to make room for additional curriculum and instructional time in reading and math – the two subjects tested for accountability under the No Child Left Behind Act – many districts are also spending less time in other subjects that are not the focus of federal accountability.

About 62 percent of districts reported increasing time for English language arts and/or math in elementary schools since school year 2001-02, and more than 20 percent reported increasing time for these subjects in middle school during the same time.

Among the districts reporting increased time for English and math, the average increase was substantial, amounting to a 46 percent increase in English, a 37 percent increase in math, and a 42 percent increase across the two subjects combined.

Meanwhile, 44 percent of districts reported cutting time from one or more other subjects or activities at the elementary level, including science, social studies, art and music, physical education, lunch and recess. On average, the cuts amounted to about 30 minutes a day.

The report, Choices, Changes, and Challenges: Curriculum and Instruction in the NCLB Era, also finds that overall, the decreases represent an average reduction of 31 percent in the total amount of instructional time devoted to these subjects since 2001-02.

I can see only one way to make substantial improvements in scholastic outcomes: teach smarter kids more rapidly. The smarter kids have the potential to learn more rapidly. With easy access to recorded video lectures, online texts, and online tests that allow them to earn college credit starting the smartest kids could learn more rapidly.

Some day drugs, gene therapies, and cell therapies will enhance the intellectual abilities of the dummies. Until genetic evidence demonstrates how deeply differences in scholastic performance is driven by genetic differences dishonest politicians will pretend that educational policies can help.

By Randall Parker    2007 July 30 10:16 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (4)
Costs Of College Majors Diverge

State universities, faced with less state taxpayer support, are beginning to charge different tuition prices for different majors.

Starting this fall, juniors and seniors pursuing an undergraduate major in the business school at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, will pay $500 more each semester than classmates. The University of Nebraska last year began charging engineering students a $40 premium for each hour of class credit.

And Arizona State University this fall will phase in for upperclassmen in the journalism school a $250 per semester charge above the basic $2,411 tuition for in-state students.

Professors cost more in fields where the graduates get paid more.

Such moves are being driven by the high salaries commanded by professors in certain fields, the expense of specialized equipment and the difficulties of getting state legislatures to approve general tuition increases, university officials say.

Modest proposal: Record the lectures of a few highly paid professors and thereby drastically cut down the cost of delivering lectures by showing prerecorded lectures. Universities could approach graduate students and poor assistant professors and offer them big one-time fees in exchange for recording entire courses worth of lectures with unlimited distribution rights owned by the universities. Then universities could trade each other lectures series as a way to offer more courses and more experts giving their take on the same subjects.

Iowa State engineering students are going to feel an increasing pinch due to rising costs of engineering faculty.

Undergraduate juniors and seniors in the engineering school at Iowa State last year began paying about $500 more annually, he said, and the size of that additional payment is scheduled to rise by $500 a year for at least the next two years.

The use of prerecorded lectures will free up lots of professors to go out and work in the professions for which they are trained. By freeing up time of people whose time is highly valuable the video lectures will boost economic productivity and increase economic growth. The videos will also enable more people to get educated and to do so more conveniently, quickly, and cheaply.

By Randall Parker    2007 July 30 08:46 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (2)
2007 July 28 Saturday
Private Schooling Too Expensive For British Middle Class

Private school tuition is rising up out of reach of the British middle class.

Private school fees have soared by 41% since 2002 - at more than twice the rate of inflation, effectively pricing more parents out of privately educating their children, research showed today.

Figures showing the rising cost of private tuition came as leftwing thinktank the Fabian Society, chaired by the secretary of state for children, schools and families Ed Balls, suggested the government introduce a tax on private school fees to halt the exodus from state education.

Are the Fabian socialists oblivious to the trend which is already putting private education out of the range of an overwhelming majority of the British population and even of much of the middle class? Or are they incensed that the upper class can still afford to send their kids to private schooling even as private schooling rises above the reach of the middle class?

What can drive such a big increase in prices? Higher demand or higher costs? Also, what's driving the rising demand? Perceived greater return on educational investment? Need to get one's kids away from immigrant kids who are ruining the local school? Other?

In 2007, the average annual cost of sending a child to private day school was £9,627, compared with £6,820 in 2002, according to research by Britain's largest mortgage lender Halifax Financial Services.

That is nearly $20,000 at today's exchange rates. So put 20 kids into a classroom. Charge, say, $19,000. That's $380,000 for a classroom. How can it cost that much? Surely the teacher's seeing only a small fraction of that. How much do elementary school teachers make in Manchester or Liverpool or Cardiff?

A lengthening list of occupations do not pay well enough to make private schooling of children affordable.

Key public sector workers can no longer afford private education for their children. For teachers, average school fees for day pupils represent 28% of the average salary and 36% for nurses.

Only 13 occupations can now afford fees, compared with 23 in 2002, according to Halifax. Lecturers, scientists, engineers, journalists, writers, trading standards officers and computer programmers would now need help paying the fees they could afford in 2002.

The article says private school enrollment rose by 6% from 2001 to 2006. In the face of these higher prices that suggests a decline in middle class enrollment combined with a big increase in enrollment of children of high income parents.

Why didn't the enrollment rise more rapidly with less of a price rise? Are private school buildings already full? Does expansion really cost so much that high demand gets met with big price increases?

This article illustrates why I do not trust inflation indexes. If you looked at a market basket of goods and services bought by British engineers, scientists, first level managers and others who can't afford to send their kids to private school you wouldn't find private school as an expense for them. So the rise in private school costs wouldn't show up as inflation in their market basket.

Also, if the demand for private schooling comes as a result egalitarian educational policies that force dummies and smarties into the same classrooms then the quality of publicly provided service has declined and that doesn't show up in price indexes either.

By Randall Parker    2007 July 28 06:35 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (5)
2007 July 22 Sunday
Games Train For SAT And Other Tests

The SAT test preparation industry demonstrates how more education ought to get done: with entertainment and automation.

Test-prep giant Kaplan has paired up with publisher TOKYOPOP to offer a series of manga novels (Japanese-style comics). Released earlier this month, each of three popular stories was rewritten to include more than 300 words commonly tested on the SAT and ACT. (Cost: $9.99.)

"Van Von Hunter" stars a raven-haired hero who vanquishes evil in the land of Dikay. In just the first few pages, you'll find words like "inviolable," "nefarious," and "subvert." Underlined words are de­­fined in a box on the same page.

"By having the combination of the visual story and the words popping out on the page, students can ... really retain the words, versus just memorizing a list," says Kristen Campbell, Kaplan's national director of SAT and ACT programs in New York. With librarians and even classroom teachers tapping into this popular genre, she says, it made sense to add it to the test-prep options.

If a CD can help rapidly boost vocabulary tests doesn't that suggest that software can both more effectively and more rapidly boost educational productivity than more teachers or higher paid teachers?

Vocabulary Accelerator, by Defined Mind Inc. in New York, serves up rock, hip-hop, and R&B songs on a CD with a workbook of related exercises (, $25 for the set). One ninth-grade teacher reported that after just a few weeks of incorporating the program into her lessons, her class's average score on vocabulary quizzes went up from 40 to 84 percent.

We need games and other software that teaches and tests for a much wider range of subjects. We also need ways for high school students to earn college credits in a variety of subjects by taking tests online. We need to speed up and lower the cost of education. Make it easy for kids to learn at any time and any speed rather than when classes get held and at the rate at which classes get held.

By Randall Parker    2007 July 22 11:11 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (6)
2007 July 17 Tuesday
Charles Murray Wants To Replace SAT

Charles Murray wants to abolish the core SAT and substitute results from the College Board's achievement tests.

Getting rid of the SAT will destroy the coaching industry as we know it. Coaching for the SAT is seen as the teaching of tricks and strategies—a species of cheating—not as supplementary education. The retooled coaching industry will focus on the achievement tests, but insofar as the offerings consist of cram courses for tests in topics such as U.S. history or chemistry, its taint will be reduced.

Yes, the achievement tests are more constructive. But Murray does not go far enough. The Advanced Placement tests are even more constructive because they yield college credits. What we need is a massive increase in the ability of students to earn college credits without ever stepping foot on a bricks-and-mortar college campus.

Let students watch high resolution video lectures and take practice tests on the web for most undergraduate courses. Let them show up in a proctored room once a month to take tests in any subjects where they think they've learned enough to earn college credits. This would be cheaper and much more open to the lower classes, to the bright kids born on the wrong side of the proverbial tracks.

While Murray thinks the SAT is highly accurate and hard to game he thinks a widespread belief that upper class kids can get trained for it reduces its legitimacy.

A low-income student shut out of opportunity for an SAT coaching school has the sense of being shut out of mysteries. Being shut out of a cram course is less daunting. Students know that they can study for a history or chemistry exam on their own. A coaching industry that teaches content along with test-taking techniques will have the additional advantage of being much better pedagogically—at least the students who take the coaching courses will be spending some of their time learning history or chemistry.

The lower or even just middle income students have the sense of being shut out of a lot more than the mysteries of SAT coaching schools. In the world of higher education the use of the SAT is a symptom of a much larger problem. We need to move away from the extremely expensive elite school model and move toward much more accessible educational materials.

Murray says a greater emphasis on achievement tests will cause a bigger focus on the quality of high schools.

The substitution of achievement tests for the SAT will put a spotlight on the quality of the local high school’s curriculum. If achievement test scores are getting all of the parents’ attention in the college admissions process, the courses that prepare for those achievement tests will get more of their attention as well, and the pressure for those courses to improve will increase.

I think the spotlight should shift away from high schools and colleges and toward ways to empower individuals to learn as much as they want and can handle.

In spite of co-authoring The Bell Curve Murray imagines there's some way to reduce the role of cognitive status symbols in American society.

The final benefit of getting rid of the SAT is the hardest to describe but is probably the most important. By getting rid of the SAT, we would be getting rid of a totem for members of the cognitive elite.

But totems for signaling higher intelligence help to make the labor market much more efficient and accurate. We need ways for employers to identify job applicants who are smart enough to do the most cognitively demanding jobs.

Education costs too much. Way too much. That is a bigger obstacle than differences in SAT test scores. Educational institutions are also highly inconvenient. You have to set aside 3 months of your life to take some semester-length courses and have to do so where a college is located that offers what you want and that will accept you. You can't choose when the 3 month period starts.

We need to replace the education system that uses the SAT rather than replace the SAT.

By Randall Parker    2007 July 17 09:21 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (5)
2007 March 15 Thursday
Congressional Republicans Sour On No Child Left Behind

Some Republicans in Congress are turning against the No Child Left Behind Act which seeks to make every child into the image of our college educated upper classes.

More than 50 GOP members of the House and Senate -- including the House's second-ranking Republican -- will introduce legislation today that could severely undercut President Bush's signature domestic achievement, the No Child Left Behind Act, by allowing states to opt out of its testing mandates.


Among the co-sponsors of the legislation are House Minority Whip Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), a key supporter of the measure in 2001, and John Cornyn (R-Tex.), Bush's most reliable defender in the Senate. Rep. Eric Cantor (Va.), the House GOP's chief deputy whip and a supporter in 2001, has also signed on.

No Child Left Behind is better labelled No Lie Left Behind. The most noteworthy thing about it is the sheer size of the lie by which it was justified. It is based on the idea that America's children all live in Garrison Keillor's Lake Woebegone where "all the women are strong, all the men are good-looking, and all the children are above average". Schools which can not get dumber children to perform like higher IQ college bound kids are punished for the genetic endowments of their students.

Our intellectuals, such as they are, made the No Lie Left Behind legislation possible. What I want to know: which motivations are most important for the telling of these lies? One of the motives is the desire to avoid saying something that'll hurt the feelings of others. Don't want to tell a person or a group their kids are dumb. Is that the biggest motive?

Another motive for lying about relative abilities is the desire to reshape and remold society. This is a milder version of the dream to create New Soviet Man.

NCLB might yield one benefit: All the effort to achieve NCLB goals will fail. The educrats are going to have a hard time explaining why testing, teaching to the tests, longer school days, smaller classes, more school days per school year, and more money did not help. But I'm confident they'll make like our elites and come up with some suitable lies.

By Randall Parker    2007 March 15 06:33 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (2)
2007 March 12 Monday
Pell Grants Drive Up College Tuition Prices

Why have tuition costs risen faster than the rate of inflation for decades? Rising demand fueled by tax money increases the cost of higher education.

Undergraduates at in-state institutions were not significantly affected by tuition increases linked to rises in Pell grants between 1989 and 1996, economists Larry D. Singell Jr. and Joe A. Stone report in a paper to appear in the journal Economics of Education Review. The study is available online.

“For private colleges, the response to Pell grants is no different from their approach to tuition pricing and awarding of differential scholarships to students based on need,” said Singell, head of the UO department of economics. “So we are not much surprised by our findings. We were also not surprised to find no significant effect for Pell grants on residential tuition at public colleges.”

Some students, whose families’ incomes make them ineligible for Pell, have faced tuition hikes that sometimes match almost one-to-one any dollar increases in Pell grants when they enroll at out-of-state public institutions or private schools. However, rather than having the effect of turning away the poorer students with Pell grants, tuition redistribution allows these institutions to accommodate lower-income Pell recipients, said Stone, the W.E. Miner Professor of Economics at the UO.

“A lot of people have looked at the Bennett hypothesis,” Stone said. “I think our study is the most comprehensive one in terms of the types and numbers of schools and the long time period we examined. We found that Pell increases do expand the opportunities for students entering their in-state public schools without seeing a directly related increase in tuition. For students going to private schools and non-residents going to public schools, we found that access to those schools increases, too, but it comes at the expense of higher overall tuition paid by wealthier students.”

So the government spends more on education and people too affluent to qualify for student aid pay higher tuition as well.

Most people think colleges ask for financial information from parents so they can identify parents whose kids deserve price breaks. No, that is not it. The colleges use the financial information to identify parents who they can soak with higher tuitions. The official public tuition level is what they'll charge you if you can afford to get milked. If they had no way to tell how much each parent can afford to pay they'd have to offer lower official tuition levels.

Some of the Pell grant money goes toward allowing poorer students to attend more expensive schools.

Bottom-line results were that in-state public tuition has risen nationally, especially in the Midwest and Northeast. It rose by $359 per $1,000 of Pell awards in a standard statistical analysis but by just $130 per $1,000 when other effects were considered. The researchers theorized that the difference suggests that Pell grants tend to assist recipients in attending the more costly public institutions within their own states.

At public universities, out-of-state tuition went up the most in the West and Northeast, increasing at $804 per $1,000 of Pell grants. Tuition at private institutions, which get very little state support and rely more heavily on endowments, also rose, with the sharpest increases in the same regions. The rise related to Pell grants was $863 per $1,000, approaching a one-to-one effect. Stone and Singell also conclude that students who obtained larger Pell grants are drawn more to private schools with lower tuition rather than those with higher tuition.

These numbers above are a sign that colleges operate like oligopolies. Competition ought to drive down costs. But the main goal of colleges is not to provide the best education for the dollar. The main goal is to allow people to show how high their IQs are by saying which college they graduated from.

In practice the smartest kids have to pay the most to demonstrate how smart they are. The elite schools charge the most. The smarter kids tend to have smarter and more affluent parents. So the elite schools have customers who both are smarter and whose parents have deep pockets.

If employers could easily test for IQ then the need for smarter kids to spend more on expensive schools would go away. This would save them money by allowing them to go to cheaper schools. This would also drive down tuitions at the most expensive schools.

Another way to introduce more price competition: Have standard tests for major subjects with many sites offering the tests. If, for example, one could earn a degree in chemistry by taking all the standard tests of the American Chemical Society for undergraduate chemistry then a person could buy their prerecorded college chemistry lectures separately from their tests and earn a degree for a small fraction of current costs. No need for lots of expensive lecture labor and buildings with lecture halls. Watch lectures any time of night and day and go through a course as fast as you can push yourself.

By Randall Parker    2007 March 12 07:08 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (20)
2007 March 08 Thursday
NYC Teachers Weak In English

Thomas Wagner, a former New York City public school English teacher, says grammar isn't taught very much in the NYC public school system and the teachers there are increasingly unable to teach grammar and writing.

I retired in 2002, after 29 years as a public-middle-school English teacher in Jackson Heights, Queens, a stable working-class neighborhood in New York City.


In my final year, the assistant superintendent dropped by my class with the principal and later told her that it was nice to see a teacher still teaching grammar. There was no hint that a curriculum policy might be re-examined—just a wistful comment about the winds of change. To get to the point, there is no sequential program of language development that can be assumed in the New York City public-school system. While the word “curriculum” is now in vogue, there is little awareness that this might require the actual specification of academic content to be taught in each grade.

That this near-anarchic approach to teaching English had repercussions was brought home to me in the year following my retirement, when I was hired by my union, the United Federation of Teachers, to teach two sections of a six-session course to prospective teachers. The class was designed to help them pass the essay part of the New York State Teacher Certification exam. My students—all college graduates—were generally bright, dedicated, decent people, but most of them had a lot of difficulty organizing their thoughts into the form of a short essay and a limited knowledge of the mechanics of writing.

In fact, most of my students had already failed the licensing exam.

He says the inability of the teachers to teach writing is a reflection of their own inadequate education in the schools that taught them. But my guess is these prospective teachers aren't as smart as he's making them out to be. I'd love to see IQ tests administered to teachers in various public school systems. Do their skills in writing and grammar track with their IQ scores? Or is there a real decay in the level of proficiency of English writing skills adjusted for the intelligence of those teaching?

The smartest people do not go into teaching. Before women made their way into higher paying professions like law and medicine many smarter ones became teachers and nurses. But since so many more doors are open in business, higher education, and higher paying professions the elementary and high schools have probably suffered a brain drain of teaching talent. Plus, even smarter men find more demand for their skills in industry. So teaching suffers from an IQ problem.

If students need to receive instruction from brighter and more highly educated teachers the best way to address that need is to use more video lectures either recorded or delivered live to many classrooms simultaneously. The small number of very best and brightest teachers could teach tens and hundreds of thousands of students rather than just the small number of students who can fit in a single classroom. Average quality of viewed lectures could rise substantially. Also, software can automate testing and practice exercises.

Automation of teaching and testing is the path to both higher quality and lower costs.

By Randall Parker    2007 March 08 09:46 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (12)
2007 February 22 Thursday
12th Graders Doing Worse On US National Tests

Money and big national lies told by our elites have failed to raise standardized test scores of 12th graders in America.

WALNUT CREEK, Calif. - High school seniors take harder classes and earn higher grades than they used to but continue to fare poorly on achievement tests, according to reports released Thursday by the U.S. Department of Education.

Nationwide, just 1 in 4 high school seniors tested in 2005 ranked competent in math and barely a third read at grade level, the reports show. Reading scores are the lowest since 1992, with students in the Western United States performing worse than those in the Midwest and Northeast.

Despite the decline in achievement, students take the equivalent of 360 more hours of class than seniors who graduated in 1990.

The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) scores provide still more evidence that the mainstream debate on social policy in America is conducted based on a set of lies about human nature.

Within America's Lake Woebegone mythology (or, if you prefer, Bright Shining Lie) how to explain the failure of more instruction hours, more instruction in advanced topics, and standardized testing to raise test scores? How to explain the failure of more money to raise test scores? How to explain the failure of charter schools to raise test scores? How to explain the failure of the No Child Left Behind Act? After all, it had No Lie Left Behind. How to ignore the elephant called IQ standing in the room? Time for a new phrase, a new formulation. How about a "rigor gap"?

"How is it that our high school students can earn more credits, get higher GPAs, but yet not perform any better?" said David Gordon, member of the National Assessment Governing Board and Sacramento County, Calif., schools superintendent. During a Thursday press conference, Gordon termed the problem a "rigor gap."

The lies have some years to run yet. But the more vigorously the politicians try policies based on false assumptions the closer we get to the collapse of the old mythology.

We should be getting better if we live in wonderland.

The new reading scores show no change since 2002, the last time the test was given.

"We should be getting better. There's nothing good about a flat score," Winick said.

But our schools have gotten better at lying to parents about how well their kids are doing.

In 2005, high school graduates had an overall grade-point average just shy of 3.0 - or about a B. That has gone up from a grade-point average of about 2.7 in 1990.

Junior is getting better grades. Well, that's great news. What a nice lie those teachers are willing to tell.

The average kid was doing better in the good old days of 1992.

Nationwide, 73 percent of 12th-grade students achieved a ``basic'' reading score in 2005, down from 80 percent in 1992, according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress, a sampling test the government calls the ``nation's report card.'' Sixty-one percent scored at or above the basic level in math.

At the same time, 68 percent of high school graduates completed at least a ``standard'' curriculum, up from 59 percent in 2000, with the overall grade point average about one-third of a letter grade higher than in 1990, the department said in a report. The figures raise questions about the quality of the courses being taught at U.S. high schools, it said.

As Hispanics continue to grow as a percentage of the total population average NAEP scores are going to fall further. No educational reform can overcome the demographic force of ethnic groups which score lower in standardized IQ tests.

Steve Sailer says there's a wide gap between private beliefs and public utterances.

Here's the really fascinating thing about the broad support for NCLB.

In private, virtually every single person in America understands that human beings are highly diverse in mental capabilities.

They just won’t acknowledge it in public.

So why the massive widespread lying that forms the basis for educational policy in America? Liars who lie to protect the feelings of others are more popular.

Experiments have found that ordinary people tell about two lies every 10 minutes, with some people getting in as many as a dozen falsehoods in that period. More interestingly -- and Libby might see this as the silver lining if he is found guilty -- Feldman also found that liars tend to be more popular than honest people.


Saxe found in one experiment that nearly 85 percent of college students had lied in the course of a romantic relationship, most often about another relationship. (These were lies that people voluntarily admitted to Saxe, which means the actual number of lies and liars was probably higher.) Nearly to a person, the liars said they were trying to protect the feelings of someone they cared about.

But on some topics where the lies get translated into government policy the lies are very damaging. We need more honesty. We are hurting ourselves with these lies.

By Randall Parker    2007 February 22 10:39 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (6)
2007 January 26 Friday
Bush Wants Bigger No Child Left Behind Effort

George W. Bush wants to expand the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) legislation which is coing up for renewal this year. NCLB is based upon the biggest and most popular lie of our era: the idea that everyone is capable of learning and performing intellectually difficult tasks. Bush is proposing a number of new policies to scale up the pursuit of NCLB's unachievable goals - just like his Iraq policy.

  • Holding schools accountable for achievement on science tests, beginning in 2008-09 at three grade levels, with all students to be proficient by 2019-20.
  • Expanding on the use of growth models, which look at how much a student grows in a school year, not just the final score, to judge schools.
  • Providing vouchers -- worth an average of $4,000 per student -- to enable students in chronically low-performing schools to transfer to private or other public schools. The money would include both federal Title I money and newly created Promise Scholarships of $2,500 per student.
  • Setting up "Opportunity Scholarships" within set geographical areas to help students attend private schools through a local scholarship program.

The expansion of the NCLB requirements into still more areas won't make the whole undertaking finally start to work. The Bushies have been trying solipsism for 6 years now and it has been a dismal failure. How about a more empirical approach to policy based on what we know about human nature rather than pretty lies?

Bush lives a very active fantasy life.

President Bush signed the No Child Left Behind Act into law in 2002. It requires schools to test students in reading and math annually in grades three to eight, and establishes progressively more severe penalties for schools that fail to make adequate progress, including shutting the schools altogether.

Administration officials said there were currently about 1,800 of these schools across the country, where students have failed to meet state targets for reading and math for more than five years. But they said that loopholes in the current law allowed them to avoid serious action indefinitely.

“We all have to answer the question what are we going to do about that,” Ms. Spellings said in a telephone news conference. “This is the president’s answer to, Is the promise of No Child Left Behind real?”

We can bring liberal democracy to Iraq. We can also make all kids above average like in Lake Woebegone.

Education Secretary Margaret Spellings seems to think several delusional ideas add up to a sensible idea.

"I see this as a very vigorous package of proposals that are sound and make sense if taken together," said U.S. Education Secretary Margaret Spellings. "This is the president's answer to the question, `Is the promise of No Child Left Behind real?' If this proposal is not what Congress had in mind, then we all have to ask them what they have in mind."

Schools should be measured by starting with the IQs of their students and then ask whether each kid is developing to that kid's intellectual potential. Do not deceitfully grade a school as failing when it has kids with an average 90 IQ and the kids are learning about as much we can expect 90 IQ kids to lean. NCLB school grades are based on a lie. Our elites should stop telling so many big lies.

By Randall Parker    2007 January 26 11:03 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (5)
2007 January 21 Sunday
Charles Murray On Education And Intelligence

Charles Murray has written a 3 part series for the Wall Street Journal on education and intelligence differences. In the first article Murray argues that we can't think rationally about education policy and proposals to improve education without considering differences in levels of intelligence.

Education is becoming the preferred method for diagnosing and attacking a wide range problems in American life. The No Child Left Behind Act is one prominent example. Another is the recent volley of articles that blame rising income inequality on the increasing economic premium for advanced education. Crime, drugs, extramarital births, unemployment--you name the problem, and I will show you a stack of claims that education is to blame, or at least implicated.

One word is missing from these discussions: intelligence. Hardly anyone will admit it, but education's role in causing or solving any problem cannot be evaluated without considering the underlying intellectual ability of the people being educated. Today and over the next two days, I will put the case for three simple truths about the mediating role of intelligence that should bear on the way we think about education and the nation's future.

Today's simple truth: Half of all children are below average in intelligence. We do not live in Lake Wobegon.

Murray argues that we can't hope to raise school test scores all that much because kids can't perform beyond their intellectual capacity. But one of the modern American myths is that each individual can achieve anything given sufficient will power and a good enough environment. That myth, which appeals to people on the political Left and Right for different reasons, is behind a many bad policies in education, welfare, workplace laws, and other areas of public policy.

Murray also notes that no researchers have ever tried to figure out what level of IQ is needed to achieve a passing score on the US government's National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) tests. With that information children who are scoring below their potential could be identified. Give kids an IQ test. Then give them a NAEP test. Kids that are scoring lower on NAEP than their IQ test results suggest they are capable of would be candidates for greater attention to change how and where they are taught.

Murray says there's no Golden Age of education we can return to.

The second problem with the argument that education can be vastly improved is the false assumption that educators already know how to educate everyone and that they just need to try harder--the assumption that prompted No Child Left Behind. We have never known how to educate everyone. The widely held image of a golden age of American education when teachers brooked no nonsense and all the children learned their three Rs is a myth. If we confine the discussion to children in the lower half of the intelligence distribution (education of the gifted is another story), the overall trend of the 20th century was one of slow, hard-won improvement. A detailed review of this evidence, never challenged with data, was also part of "The Bell Curve."

I call No Child Left Behind (NCLB) by a more accurate phrase: No Lie Left Behind. The law is based on false assumptions about human nature that commissars on the Left enforce by attacking and marginalizing anyone who violates their taboos about human nature. NCLB's goals are unachievable and policies formulated to achieve those goals waste resources and do wrong by children.

In his second article of the series Murray argues that too many people go to college since the percentage of those smart enough to master college material is far smaller than the percentage who go to college.

The topic yesterday was education and children in the lower half of the intelligence distribution. Today I turn to the upper half, people with IQs of 100 or higher. Today's simple truth is that far too many of them are going to four-year colleges.

Begin with those barely into the top half, those with average intelligence. To have an IQ of 100 means that a tough high-school course pushes you about as far as your academic talents will take you. If you are average in math ability, you may struggle with algebra and probably fail a calculus course. If you are average in verbal skills, you often misinterpret complex text and make errors in logic.

These are not devastating shortcomings. You are smart enough to engage in any of hundreds of occupations. You can acquire more knowledge if it is presented in a format commensurate with your intellectual skills. But a genuine college education in the arts and sciences begins where your skills leave off.

Those who lack the intellectual horsepower needed to handle college level courses are being ill-served by those who direct them toward college.

Murray thinks only 15% should go to college or at most 25%. Yet far more go and colleges exist with low standards to keep less intelligent students enrolled. In spite of the low standards many drop out anyway. Others get meaningless degrees in easy subjects.

In engineering and most of the natural sciences, the demarcation between high-school material and college-level material is brutally obvious. If you cannot handle the math, you cannot pass the courses. In the humanities and social sciences, the demarcation is fuzzier. It is possible for someone with an IQ of 100 to sit in the lectures of Economics 1, read the textbook, and write answers in an examination book. But students who cannot follow complex arguments accurately are not really learning economics. They are taking away a mishmash of half-understood information and outright misunderstandings that probably leave them under the illusion that they know something they do not. (A depressing research literature documents one's inability to recognize one's own incompetence.) Traditionally and properly understood, a four-year college education teaches advanced analytic skills and information at a level that exceeds the intellectual capacity of most people.

There is no magic point at which a genuine college-level education becomes an option, but anything below an IQ of 110 is problematic. If you want to do well, you should have an IQ of 115 or higher. Put another way, it makes sense for only about 15% of the population, 25% if one stretches it, to get a college education. And yet more than 45% of recent high school graduates enroll in four-year colleges. Adjust that percentage to account for high-school dropouts, and more than 40% of all persons in their late teens are trying to go to a four-year college--enough people to absorb everyone down through an IQ of 104.

Since races with lower average IQs (whites average 100) are among those trying to get into colleges and since many colleges give racial preferences to lower IQ races the result is that many with IQs even below 100 enroll in college. This wastes their time and a lot of money, both theirs and money from taxpayers. Also, the people who spend time trying to teach them would make better contributions to the economy and to society in other lines of work.

Murray argues the lower IQ kids who head to college would be far better served by vocational training to teach specific job skills. But lots of people head to college because a college degree is used by employers as a proxy for higher intelligence.

Government policy contributes to the problem by making college scholarships and loans too easy to get, but its role is ancillary. The demand for college is market-driven, because a college degree does, in fact, open up access to jobs that are closed to people without one. The fault lies in the false premium that our culture has put on a college degree.

For a few occupations, a college degree still certifies a qualification. For example, employers appropriately treat a bachelor's degree in engineering as a requirement for hiring engineers. But a bachelor's degree in a field such as sociology, psychology, economics, history or literature certifies nothing. It is a screening device for employers. The college you got into says a lot about your ability, and that you stuck it out for four years says something about your perseverance. But the degree itself does not qualify the graduate for anything. There are better, faster and more efficient ways for young people to acquire credentials to provide to employers.

We could eliminate the need for college degrees as (only roughly accurate) measures of intelligence if employers were allowed to directly test for IQ.

Murray observes the 2 year junior colleges adapting themselves to their real markets and offering vocational training. He also sees a trend in technology toward electronic delivery of courses coupled with a big decline in the demand for brick-and-mortar colleges and universities. I agree and want to see this trend accelerate.

Advances in technology are making the brick-and-mortar facility increasingly irrelevant. Research resources on the Internet will soon make the college library unnecessary. Lecture courses taught by first-rate professors are already available on CDs and DVDs for many subjects, and online methods to make courses interactive between professors and students are evolving. Advances in computer simulation are expanding the technical skills that can be taught without having to gather students together in a laboratory or shop. These and other developments are all still near the bottom of steep growth curves. The cost of effective training will fall for everyone who is willing to give up the trappings of a campus. As the cost of college continues to rise, the choice to give up those trappings will become easier.

College costs far too much and takes too much time. It is impractical. You have to show up at lectures for a course on 2 or 3 times a week at fixed times. Got something else to do? Too bad. Find the times of all your needed courses so spread out that you have no day to work all day at a job? The colleges are not set and organized for your convenience. Want to watch all the lectures in a couple of days when you have the time? Sorry, they aren't recorded. You've got to spend months to watch a semester's worth of lectures for a course even though all all the lectures for a single course only add up to 15 or 20 hours.

In his final essay of the series, Aztecs vs. Greeks, Murray argues for the resurrection of the classical education based upon Greek thinkers.

In professions screened for IQ by educational requirements--medicine, engineering, law, the sciences and academia--the great majority of people must, by the nature of the selection process, have IQs over 120. Evidence about who enters occupations where the screening is not directly linked to IQ indicates that people with IQs of 120 or higher also occupy large proportions of positions in the upper reaches of corporate America and the senior ranks of government. People in the top 10% of intelligence produce most of the books and newspaper articles we read and the television programs and movies we watch. They are the people in the laboratories and at workstations who invent our new pharmaceuticals, computer chips, software and every other form of advanced technology.

Combine these groups, and the top 10% of the intelligence distribution has a huge influence on whether our economy is vital or stagnant, our culture healthy or sick, our institutions secure or endangered. Of the simple truths about intelligence and its relationship to education, this is the most important and least acknowledged: Our future depends crucially on how we educate the next generation of people gifted with unusually high intelligence.

Our future depends far more on how many people in the next generation have IQs at 120 or higher. Currently immigration policy is decreasing the proportion that are above 120. That draws higher IQ people away from creative design work to serve lower IQ people. Also, smarter people are having fewer kids and having kids later than dumber people.

Murray says little educational spending is targetted at the smart people who can do the most with it.

How assiduously does our federal government work to see that this precious raw material is properly developed? In 2006, the Department of Education spent about $84 billion. The only program to improve the education of the gifted got $9.6 million, one-hundredth of 1% of expenditures. In the 2007 budget, President Bush zeroed it out.

Murray points out that smarter people are better able to compensate for deficiencies in educational systems and in other factors in the environment. True enough. But still, smart people waste a lot of time getting educations that could be gotten faster and with more customization for their wants and needs.

Murray sees a bigger problem in the education of smart people in terms of citizenship training.

The problem with the education of the gifted involves not their professional training, but their training as citizens.

We live in an age when it is unfashionable to talk about the special responsibility of being gifted, because to do so acknowledges inequality of ability, which is elitist, and inequality of responsibilities, which is also elitist. And so children who know they are smarter than the other kids tend, in a most human reaction, to think of themselves as superior to them. Because giftedness is not to be talked about, no one tells high-IQ children explicitly, forcefully and repeatedly that their intellectual talent is a gift. That they are not superior human beings, but lucky ones. That the gift brings with it obligations to be worthy of it. That among those obligations, the most important and most difficult is to aim not just at academic accomplishment, but at wisdom.

I have to disagree with Murray here. In one sense smarter people are superior. They can understand more. They can see patterns and chains of cause and effect that are completely incomprehensible to the majority.

I think the bigger problem with smart people in terms of citizenship obligations is that they are not incentized properly to make better contributions to making the society as a whole function well. One reason for this is that in a democracy there's little incentive for a person to become informed enough to vote wisely. A smart person will gain far more by working at their career.

But another factor that reduces the contributions of smart people is the grant of voting power to the masses. People who simply can't understand issues vote for who will lead us. We get leaders who are not held properly accountable because many people can't recognize which decisions by leaders are mistakes or which statements by leaders are deceptions. This further reduces the return on investment for smart people who study issues and closely scrutinize candidates. Their votes will get cancelled out by votes of dummies for candidates who cater to their demands.

But Murray makes a very reasonable point: We are going to be governed by a cognitive elite. So educate that elite to know how to govern wisely.

The gifted should not be taught to be nonjudgmental; they need to learn how to make accurate judgments. They should not be taught to be equally respectful of Aztecs and Greeks; they should focus on the best that has come before them, which will mean a light dose of Aztecs and a heavy one of Greeks. The primary purpose of their education should not be to let the little darlings express themselves, but to give them the tools and the intellectual discipline for expressing themselves as adults.

In short, I am calling for a revival of the classical definition of a liberal education, serving its classic purpose: to prepare an elite to do its duty. If that sounds too much like Plato's Guardians, consider this distinction. As William F. Buckley rightly instructs us, it is better to be governed by the first 2,000 names in the Boston phone book than by the faculty of Harvard University. But we have that option only in the choice of our elected officials. In all other respects, the government, economy and culture are run by a cognitive elite that we do not choose. That is the reality, and we are powerless to change it. All we can do is try to educate the elite to be conscious of, and prepared to meet, its obligations. For years, we have not even thought about the nature of that task. It is time we did.

I question whether at this point an education for wise governance should be centered around the Greeks. We are finally developing a biologically informed understanding of human nature. We can understand humanity better by the biological thinkers (e.g. Pierre L. van den Berghe, Frank Miele, William D. Hamilton) and by reading the findings of the neuroscientists than by reading the Greeks. The Greeks still hold some value. But the classical thinkers built their theories on too limited a base of scientific knowledge.

But upon re-reading I think Murray is calling more for an education that achieves the goal of preparing citizens by training them in analytical thinking than a revival of the classical curriculum.

The bigger problem today in academia is that the teaching of the Greeks has been displaced by assorted fads in humanities nonsense rather than scientific knowledge of the human condition. The knowledge now available from empirical fields such as psychometrics (which is taboo), genetics, neurobiology, and genetic anthropology can teach humans more about humanity than the ancient Greek thinkers can. But the blank slaters have turned their backs on anything that stands in the way of their believing in the supremacy of environment.

Update: Murray's argument that we can lift up the lower IQ by giving them vocational training in high paying trades seems bogus to me. First of all, even if more people could be trained in skilled manual labor trades the effect would be to drive down wages in those trades. So what are these wages? He speaks of people earning six figure salaries. I figure if they exist they are rare. Master plumbers with high skills and lots of experience average $22 per hour and most plumbers make less. Some plumbers with 20 or more years experience make $25 per hour. That's where they top out. Eventually their bodies age and it becomes difficult for them to keep doing that sort of work. A similar pattern is seen for electricians. Chicago and other high union cities have higher wages for these occupations. But that just demonstrates that it takes the presence of a union to turn these occupations into higher wage jobs. There's no big unmet need for skilled manual laborers.

Bricklayers peak at $26 per hour at 10 to 19 years of experience. That's hard work and 50 year olds can't do it as fast as 35 year olds. Roofers peak at $20 per hour. These are peaks. At younger ages they make less. Eventually they become too old to work at hard manual labor. Carpenters make less than plumbers and electricians and in unionized Chicago and Boston carpenters earn $25 per hour. In other areas they earn considerably less. Again, where are these six figures craftsmen? They may exist. But only for specialty work that does not exist in large quantities.

The demand for lower IQ manual laborers is going to continue to decline. Robots will do more work. Components will last longer. Maintenance will become more automated and diagnosis of equipment failures done remotely. Greater use of prefabrication in factories will continue to reduce the need for work site skilled labor. Wealth increasingly comes from smarter minds. Relative proportions of lower and higher intelligence minds largely determine how much wealth each country has.

By Randall Parker    2007 January 21 07:43 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (19)
2006 November 24 Friday
New York Times Once More Sees Money As Educational Answer

As if colleges and universities are not expensive enough already the editors of the New York Times want to push the higher education demand curve rightward.

Democrats who ran for Congress this fall made the cost of college a big campaign issue. Now that they’ve won control of the House and Senate, they can prepare to act swiftly on at least some of the factors that have priced millions of poor and working-class Americans right out of higher education. The obvious first step would be to boost the value of the federal Pell Grant program — a critical tool in keeping college affordable that the federal government has shamefully ceased to fund at a level that meets the national need.

This policy prescription is so yesterday. Why isn't the Gray Lady pontificating that university costs have gotten ridiculous? College costs have been going up faster than inflation for decades. It is time to stop feeding the beast. The Gray Lady should be proposing ways to drive down the cost of education. Universities are far too labor intensive and oligopolistic.

Ways to drive down costs could deliver top quality education to the vast majority who can not afford the most expensive colleges and universities. How? Video record top lecturers in every field of study. Such recordings would allow all students to watch lectures of equal quality to the lectures that students get at Harvard, Yale, MIT, Cal Tech and Stanford. State governments could fund and give free access to the recordings. Then standardized tests could allow students to take tests any day of the week in proctored rooms where they'd only pay for test administration costs.

The Gray Lady is also upset that since upper class families are more likely to produce kids who can make it into top research universities that most of the financial aid at those universities goes to upper class kids.

In recent years, aid to students whose families earn over $100,000 has more than quadrupled at the public flagship and research universities. Incredibly, the average institutional grant to students from high-income families is actually larger than the average grant to low- or middle-income families.

Income has become more correlated with intelligence as the economic value of muscle has dropped relative to the economic value of brains. Smarter people have responded by directing their kids toward top universities. Those people and their children earn more and their children then have children who are much smarter on average and more likely to get into top universities. Gone are the days when so few parents were educated that the lower classes could produce lots of first generation college students.

That kids from more affluent families should be getting most of the financial aid at universities with very high admissions standards is therefore not surprising. Those universities charge more and the kids from upper middle class and upper class families are smart enouigh to get into those places.

But of course the Gray Lady belongs to the ranks of deniers of The Bell Curve. Both the editors of the New York Times and many of its readers support the taboo enforcing commissars who prevent policy debates about education from connecting firmly with reality.

By Randall Parker    2006 November 24 06:22 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (7)
2006 November 20 Monday
Racial School Performance Gaps Not Closing

In early 2002 President George W. Bush signed into law the No Child Left Behind act (which I call No Lie Left Behind since it pretends we live in Lake Woebegone where all children are above average) which has as its objective to raise student performance in the United States. NCLB was supposed to raise the test scores of black and Hispanic students who lag far behind white, East Asian, Jewish, and South Asian students in American schools. The New York Times reports NCLB has failed to live up to the public expectations of its supporters.

Now, as Congress prepares to consider reauthorizing the law next year, researchers and a half-dozen recent studies, including three issued last week, are reporting little progress toward that goal. Slight gains have been seen for some grade levels.

Despite concerted efforts by educators, the test-score gaps are so large that, on average, African-American and Hispanic students in high school can read and do arithmetic at only the average level of whites in junior high school.

The use of the terms "high school" and "junior high school" really hides the size of the gaps. White 8th graders do about as well in the National Assessment of Educational Progress as black 12th graders. So even the average blacks graduating from high school do not know much.

Hispanics from the 2nd thru 7th generation descendants of first generation Hispanic immigrants are about two thirds of the way down the gap below whites but above blacks.

The Gray Lady reports the gaps aren't narrowing much.

“The gaps between African-Americans and whites are showing very few signs of closing,” Michael T. Nettles, a senior vice president at the Educational Testing Service, said in a paper he presented recently at Columbia University. One ethnic minority, Asians, generally fares as well as or better than whites.

The reports and their authors, in interviews, portrayed an educational landscape in which test-score gaps between black or Hispanic students and whites appear in kindergarten and worsen through 12 years of public education.

The Democrats say this means we should spend more money on education. What a crock. Some of those school districts with huge racial test score gaps are spending $10,000 per year and more per student. The correlation between spending and performance isn't very strong.

For the 2001-2002 school year the average American school spent $9,354 per student. Think about that. A 21 student class would have a budget of over $200,000. From 1980 to 1999 California school spending went up 40% per pupil adjusted for inflation.

The US Department of Education has a web page on historical per student spending adjusted for inflation. See Total and current expenditure per pupil in public elementary and secondary schools: Selected years, 1919-20 to 2001-02.

From 1971 to 2001 the total expenditures per student in inflation adjusted dollars doubled from $4884 to $9614. Going back even further the expenditures tripled from 1963's $3228.

The church of high liberal secular faith holds that we are all equal in ability and that by proper manipulation of environment everyone can be made into college students and successful workers in cognitively demanding occupations. The commissars who enforce liberal dogma in our universities, media, and workplaces ignore huge mounds of evidence that contradict their faith.

The results of comparisons of scholastic performance between races follow along with very stable long term differences in measured average IQ. But that observation has been ruled heresy by the commissars. So the New York Times and other high church publications discuss education policy and the rest of social policy in a reality distortion zone.

I'm reminded of a point that Michael Vassar made a while back. The difference between the really smart and the dumber is enormous.

Here are the actual numbers. To some degree they speak for themselves, but here are the highlights. The top 10% of 4th grade students equal or outperform the bottom 25% (really over 45% after accounting for children excluded from the test and children who dropped out of high school) of 12th grade students, and the top 25% of students outperform the bottom 10% (really over 30% for reasons given above)! For your reference, roughly 25% of the US population gets a college degree, so the average person who will get a college degree has better math ability and reading comprehension in 4th grade than the bottom 4th of the population will have after 8 more years of schooling supposedly teaches them these subjects!

The smartest kids can figure out a great deal for themselves.

The false assumptions of the big push to close racial knowledge and skills gaps make current education policy naive and even harmful for smarter students whose needs are ignored by schools chasing NCLB goals. Even worse, our immigration policy is going to make the cost of the racial differences in outcomes increasingly costly. The claim that the immigrants will improve in later generations is false. See my post Immigrants Do Not Improve Academically In Later Generations.

By Randall Parker    2006 November 20 09:46 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (33)
2006 October 26 Thursday
Voters Upset By Mandatory School Testing Results

Lots of voters do not like to be told their kid is below average.

LAUDERHILL, Fla. -- School exams may be detested by students everywhere, but in this state at the forefront of the testing and accountability movement in the United States, the backlash against them has become far broader, and politically potent.

The role of the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test, or FCAT, has become central to the race to succeed Gov. Jeb Bush (R), with polls showing a growing discontent over the exams, which he has championed and which are used to determine many aspects of the school system, including teacher pay, budgets and who flunks third grade.

Republican Charlie Crist is offering to push forward with the testing regime, but Democrat Jim Davis has condemned what he calls its "punitive" nature, arguing that exam pressures have transformed schools into "dreary test-taking factories."

"Couple years ago one of my sons brought this quiz home, and the first question was 'What does the FCAT stand for?' " Davis told a meeting of clergy here Saturday. "I won't repeat to you what I said because I used words I'm teaching my boys not to use. . . . We're going to stop using the FCAT to punish children, teachers and schools."

The No Child Left Behind (NCLB) legislation which has caused the states to institute mandatory testing is better called No Lie Left Behind. In obedience to the dictates of the leftist commissars about what is permissible to believe about human nature the legislation assume that all children are bright enough to learn topics which require IQs well over 100 to master. But since the real world is not the mythical Lake Woebegone where all children are above average the myths embodied in the legislation have collided with the reality of a growing proportion of dim bulbs in the class rooms (thanks Open Borders advocates) and the kids aren't measuring up to the feigned expectations of the leftists.

In other states voters are also upset to be told their kids are dumb.

A similar exam revolt has become a key issue in the race for governor in Texas, another state in the vanguard of the testing movement, and the issue has roiled the Ohio gubernatorial contest as well.

America's domestic policy political debate is conducted under the rubric of a set of lies. Until that changes most of the resulting policies will remain either useless or destructive.

By Randall Parker    2006 October 26 07:22 AM Entry Permalink | Comments (13)
2006 September 04 Monday
States Cheat On Standardized Tests

The call is rising to take away from states the ability to define their own school testing standards. Currently the law gives unethical politicians (under pressure to maintain liberal myths and dogmas about human nature) to cheat by using easy standard tests to fake student progress. States use tests that make their children look brighter and more educated than they really are.

Maryland recently reported that 82 percent of fourth-graders scored proficient or better in reading on the state's test. The latest data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress, known as "the nation's report card," show 32 percent of Maryland fourth-graders at or above proficiency in reading.

Virginia announced last week that 86 percent of fourth-graders reached that level on its reading test, but the NAEP data show 37 percent at or above proficiency.

The No Child Left Behind legislation is better termed No Lie Left Behind. It was designed to allow cheating by states and local schools so that the Dogma of Zero Group Differences (DZGD) can go unchallenged - at least while currently elected members of Congress and other current elected officials remain in office. Push the truth out into the future. It is so inconvenient.

The emphasis on testing was supposed to increase accountability of schools and perhaps to spur some competition. But standardized testing can not change the fact that America is not Lake Woebegone where all children are above average. Nor can testing change the racial gaps in school achievement. But a move to national standard tests is the next logical step so that politicians can pretend they are finally making the move that'll fix things. But the next logical move will make the contradictions in the dogma harder to deny. I'm curious to see what the our lying elites will do when national standardized tests do not help.

By Randall Parker    2006 September 04 09:05 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (3)
2006 July 15 Saturday
Private Schools Show No Advantage

The US Department of Education's National Center for Educational Statistics (NCES) has released a study (carried out under contract by the Educational Testing Service) which finds little advantage of private schools as compared to public schools when the family backgrounds of the kids are adjusted for.

In grades 4 and 8 for both reading and mathematics, students in private schools achieved at higher levels than students in public schools. The average difference in school means ranged from almost 8 points for grade 4 mathematics, to about 18 points for grade 8 reading. The average differences were all statistically significant. Adjusting the comparisons for student characteristics resulted in reductions in all four average differences of approximately 11 to 14 points. Based on adjusted school means, the average for public schools was significantly higher than the average for private schools for grade 4 mathematics, while the average for private schools was significantly higher than the average for public schools for grade 8 reading. The average differences in adjusted school means for both grade 4 reading and grade 8 mathematics were not significantly different from zero.

Comparisons were also carried out with subsets of private schools categorized by sectarian affiliation. After adjusting for student characteristics, raw score average differences were reduced by about 11 to 15 points. In grade 4, Catholic and Lutheran schools were each compared to public schools. For both reading and mathematics, the results were generally similar to those based on all private schools. In grade 8, Catholic, Lutheran, and Conservative Christian schools were each compared to public schools. For Catholic and Lutheran schools for both reading and mathematics, the results were again similar to those based on all private schools. For Conservative Christian schools, the average adjusted school mean in reading was not significantly different from that of public schools. In mathematics, the average adjusted school mean for Conservative Christian schools was significantly lower than that of public schools.

Keep in mind that the kids who go to private schools do score higher than the kids who go to public schools. The adjustment they do for student background amounts to an adjustment for genetic influences. But they aren't going to state the obvious: Kids who go to private schools are genetically smarter on average. In order to substantially raise the performance of public school students we'd need to raise the genetic endowment of the average child born.

To properly test the efficacy schools would require widescale IQ testing. Then comparisons could show how much each school accomplishes with the raw intellectual potential it has to work with in the kids it receives. But the political Left in America rejects IQ testing because it shows racial average differences in intelligence. Their continued defense of their secular faith requires undermining social science by preventing the measurement of the most important variables. So social science becomes quackery. What a tremendous waste.

The authors of the study inject plenty of qualifiers and caveats into its interpretation. They realize that plenty of people on both side of the public/private school debate have a lot invested in defending their positions.

When interpreting the results from any of these analyses, it should be borne in mind that private schools constitute a heterogeneous category and may differ from one another as much as they differ from public schools. Public schools also constitute a heterogeneous category. Consequently, an overall comparison of the two types of schools is of modest utility. The more focused comparisons conducted as part of this study may be of greater value. However, interpretations of the results should take into account the variability due to the relatively small sizes of the samples drawn from each category of private school, as well as the possible bias introduced by the differential participation rates across private school categories.

There are a number of other caveats. First, the conclusions pertain to national estimates. Results based on a survey of schools in a particular jurisdiction may differ. Second, the data are obtained from an observational study rather than a randomized experiment, so the estimated effects should not be interpreted in terms of causal relationships. In particular, private schools are “schools of choice.” Without further information, such as measures of prior achievement, there is no way to determine how patterns of self-selection may have affected the estimates presented. That is, the estimates of the average difference in school mean scores are confounded with average differences in the student populations, which are not fully captured by the selected student characteristics employed in this analysis.

We hear a great deal about how schools do not have enough money. Historical comparisons are useful when evaluating this claim. See the NCES page Total and current expenditure per pupil in public elementary and secondary schools: Selected years, 1919-20 to 2001-02.In the 30 years from 1971 to 2001 the total expenditures per student in inflation adjusted dollars doubled from $4884 to $9614. Going back even further the expenditures tripled from 1963's $3228. This availed us of little improvement in outcomes. But faith springs eternal. The demand for more money for education continues unabated.

The comparison was done using NAEP scores and controlled for many factors including factors that effectively serve as proxies for genetic differences - not that they'd ever admit this.

This study compares mean 2003 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) reading and mathematics scores of public and private schools in 4th and 8th grades, statistically controlling for individual student characteristics (such as gender, race/ethnicity, disability status, identification as an English language learner) and school characteristics (such as school size, location, and the composition of the student body).

A lot of those factors are rough proxies for intelligence.

My guess is that the spending per student in public schools has risen so far that public schools, even if they accomplish less per dollar spent, still spend so much that they are accomplishing close to the best we can hope for. The real educational crisis is that the best we can hope for is not all that much. The average IQ in America is declining due to immigration of low IQ groups. Trying to turn all these kids into college bound students represents the triumph of faith over the evidence of our lying eyes.

With low IQ students we should shift more toward development of job skills that let them perform specific lower skilled jobs. They can have some capacity for learning but require a fair amount of repetition of tasks that they can realistically hope to master.

Schools could be customized for the abilities of the smarter teen kids by providing them with access to recordings of college level lectures and with easier ways to take tests (think internet) for college level material. Let them learn at their own faster pace rather than make them sit in courses that advance at the rate needed for the below average student.

A companion study on charter schools has not yet been released.

The study, along with one of charter schools, was commissioned by the former head of the national Center for Education Statistics, Robert Lerner, an appointee of President Bush, at a time preliminary data suggested that charter schools, which are given public money but are run by private groups, fared no better at educating children than traditional public schools.

Proponents of charter schools had said the data did not take into account the predominance of children in their schools who had already had problems in neighborhood schools.

The two new studies put test scores in context by studying the children’s backgrounds and taking into account factors like race, ethnicity, income and parents’ educational backgrounds to make the comparisons more meaningful. The extended study of charter schools has not been released.

Those who know that environment can not trump genes have to wait for decades as various "solutions" such as more money (and the average spent per student is almost double what the public believes), charter schools, vouchers for private schools, more extensive testing, closing of so-called "failed schools", and still other methods get tried and do not help much. At some point advances in neurobiology combined with the continued decline in DNA sequencing costs will shatter the conventional wisdom of our elites and the truth will enter the public debate on education and social policy.

By Randall Parker    2006 July 15 06:50 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (17)
2006 March 21 Tuesday
DC School Administrators Rake In Big Bucks

Whoever said schools do not pay well?

More than a dozen D.C. public school system central office administrators are taking home base salaries of at least $150,000 per year, compared with just one official earning that much two years ago, according to an analysis of payroll records.

The salary information, obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, shows 14 central administration officials receiving a base pay of at least $150,000 in fiscal 2006, including five officials making $170,000 or more.

Do I even need to tell you that students in the District of Columbia perform terribly on standardized tests? Now, most of that failure is not the fault of the school administrators. But I doubt they deserve to make the big bucks.

Spending per district varies a great deal and does not track well with student performance.

* In 2002-03, the 50 states and the District of Columbia spent an average of $8,044 in current expenditures for every pupil in membership table 5). This represents a 4.0 percent increase in current expenditures per student from the previous school year ($7,734 in unadjusted dollars).

* The median of the state per pupil expenditures was $7,574, indicating that one-half of all states educated students at a cost of less than $7,574 per student (derived from table 5). Three states-New Jersey ($12,568), New York ($11,961), and Connecticut ($11,057)-expended more than $11,000 per pupil. The District of Columbia, which comprises a single urban district, spent $11,847 per pupil. Only one state, Utah, had expenditures of less than $5,000 for each pupil in membership ($4,838).

* On average, for every student in 2002-03, about $4,934 was spent for instructional services. Expenditures per pupil for instruction ranged from $3,103 in Utah to $ 8,213 in New York. Support services expenditures per pupil were highest in the District of Columbia ($5,331) and New Jersey ($4,757), and lowest in Mississippi ($1,966), Tennessee ($1,885), and Utah ($1,461). Expenditures per pupil for noninstructional services such as food services were $329 for the nation.

Either the kids in Utah need less support services because they have married parents with jobs or lots of social workers and administrators are blood-sucking leeches draining the life out of schools in other states. My guess is some of both goes on.

Low spending Utah gets excellent results with a highly white population.

Schools spend fewer dollars per student in Utah than in any other state, but more fourth-graders there improved reading and math scores over the past decade than in more than half of the states.

Maine, for example, spends nearly twice as much on a comparable student population -- $9,300 a student vs. $4,800 in Utah. But fewer Maine fourth-graders improved their math scores -- and their reading scores actually declined in the past decade.

Both states ranked just above the national average on 2005 national reading and math tests, known as the National Assessment of Education Progress, or NAEP. But Utah stands out for its success in boosting the number of students to pass the tests since 1992, the first year of state-by-state NAEP testing, despite ranking dead last for spending.

Because of lackluster academic gains for the nation as a whole, education analysts increasingly are focusing attention on standout states where test scores show more students passing than a decade ago. The most recent NAEP scores released in October showed that despite strong gains in fourth-grade mathematics since 1992, students aren't reading much better than a decade ago. Nearly two-thirds of fourth- and eighth-graders nationwide still score below grade level -- called "proficient" by NAEP -- in both math and reading.

In Utah, only 19 percent of fourth-graders scored proficient or better on math in 1992, but nearly twice as many -- 38 percent -- passed in 2005.

Utah students' academic success is due in part to the state's lower-than-average population of minority and non-English-speaking students, who historically score lower. But state education officials also credit their efforts to raise state academic standards, such as by aligning classroom curricula with standardized tests and holding schools accountable for student performance.

Note the reference to Utah's low non-white population. The writer refers to "minorities". But of course what is really meant are blacks and Amerind Hispanics. If Utah had a large population of Koreans, Japanese, Chinese, and upper caste Indians Utah's scores would be even higher. But America's media and think tanks have decided they should dissemble about racial differences.

Spending has gone up greatly per student in recent decades.

In 1982, per-pupil spending was $5,930; it rose 60% by 2000 to $9,230 (inflation-adjusted). The reduction in student-teacher ratio from 18.6 in 1982 to 15 in 1999 accounts for the greatest proportion of this increase in spending.(Hoxby, Caroline, M. "What Has Changed And What Has Not, in Our Schools and Our Future ...Are We still at Risk, Koret Task Force on K-12 Education, 2003, p.101,103.).

Per-pupil spending increased even more drastically from 1970 till now. But I wasn't able to find a good source for that time length. Anyone know of a good link for American school spending trends per pupil in inflation-adjusted terms?

Unfortunately the increasing percentage of Amerind Hispanics in the US population is going to drive down average academic performance. All the money being thrown at education is getting thrown in the wrong direction. A small fraction of that money diverted to building a high wall on the US-Mexican border would do way more to help schools than hiring more teachers. The education racket is wasting even more money than the Iraq war. The lies from our dishonest elites about why some do poorly in school will continue until cheap DNA sequencing finally settles the issue.

If you want to gaze into America's dismal future see my posts Texas Has Lowest High School Graduation Rates, Texas Standard School Test Results Are Warning On Immigration and Immigrants Do Not Improve Academically In Later Generations.

By Randall Parker    2006 March 21 10:35 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (7)
2006 February 13 Monday
Walter Russell Mead For Standard National Tests

Writing for the Weekly Standard Walter Russell Mead makes an argument familiar to long time ParaPundit readers: People should be able to earn credit toward college degrees by taking standard tests to demonstrate mastery of many different subject areas.

There is no reason the government should try to prevent American families who value the traditional college experience from paying hundreds of thousands of dollars, but perhaps it could offer an alternative: a federally recognized national baccalaureate (or 'national bac') degree that students could earn by demonstrating competence and knowledge.

My first problem with this proposal is that I do not see why the federal government should get involved.

With input from employers, the Department of Education could develop standards in fields like English, the sciences, information technology, mathematics, and so on. Students would get certificates when they passed an exam in a given subject. These certificates could be used, like the Advanced Placement tests of the College Board, to reduce the number of courses students would need to graduate from a traditional college. And colleges that accepted federal funds could be required to award credits for them.

The US Department of Education should not set such standards. Professional societies are the most logical candidates for setting standards in scientific and technical areas. For example, the American Chemical Society used to (and perhaps still does) produce a standard test of what students should learn in first year college chemistry. Professional societies in engineering, math, physics, geology, and other fields could produce similar tests.

But the certificates would be good for something else as well. With enough certificates in the right subjects, students could get a national bac without going to college. Government agencies would accept the bac as the equivalent of a conventional bachelor's degree; graduate schools and any organization receiving federal funds would also be required to accept it.

Standardized tests would provide better measures of knowledge and skills acquired. Also, tests for levels of knowledge at finer levels of granularity than an entire bachelors degree in a subject would allow demonstration that a person has acquired any number of combinations of skills which might be needed in different jobs.

Subject exams calibrated to a national standard would give employers something they do not now have: assurance that a student has achieved a certain level of knowledge and skill. It is the easiest thing in the world today to find English majors with BA degrees from accredited colleges who cannot write a standard business letter. If national bac holders could in fact perform this and other specific tasks that employers want their new hires to perform, it is likely that increasing numbers of employers would demand the bac in addition to a college degree. Students who attended traditional colleges would increasingly need to pass these exams to obtain the full benefits of their degree.

For students from modest or low-income homes, as well as for part-time students trying to earn degrees while they work full time jobs or raise families, the standards would offer a cheaper, more efficient way to focus their education. Students could take prep courses that focused on the skills they actually needed to do the jobs they sought. Parents could teach their kids at home. Schools and institutes could offer focused programs. Public records could show how well students performed on the exams, offering students and parents far more accountability and information than they now get.

Standardized tests would also allow people to pursue education at an accelerated pace. Combine standardized tests with video recordings of lectures and people could take classes any day of the week or time of the day. One could sit down and in a week of long hours watch the entire lecture series for a whole year college course.

Such programs would be both cheaper and more flexible than conventional college degree programs. The contemporary American college is solidly grounded in the tradition of the medieval guilds. These guilds deliberately limited competition to keep fees high. In the best of cases, guild regulation also protected consumers by imposing quality and fairness standards on guild members. Few observers of American education today would argue with straight faces that the quality of undergraduate education is a major concern of contemporary guilds like the American Association of University Professors. Colleges today provide no real accounting to students, parents, or anybody else about the quality of the education they provide. No other market forces consumers to make choices on so little information.

Rather than the US Congress stepping in I see this as an initiative that state governments could pursue. Individual states and groups of states could approach national professional societies of science, math, and engineering and ask for standard tests for all courses leading toward degrees. In topic areas which are less objective groups of state university systems operating under the instruction of bills passed by state legislatures could make up their own common standards.

However, Mead gets it right in arguing that the current system is akin to a guild system that is obsolete and holding back automation and innovation in education.

By setting open standards for the national bac, and by allowing anybody to offer the service of preparing students to take the exams, Congress could break the guilds' monopoly on education. A century ago higher education was still a luxury, and it scarcely mattered that it was offered only by arcane guilds in a system that took shape in the Middle Ages. But today many people of very modest means need a BA-equivalent degree to succeed in the workplace.

The power of the guilds in the goods-producing industries had to be broken before the factory system could provide the cheaper goods of the industrial revolution. The service and information revolutions require the breakup of the knowledge guilds: The professoriat is a good place to start.

College education is an excessive burden in terms of the money and the time required, in terms of the need to go to a college to get educated, and in terms of the hours for classes. For example, lots of students find it hard to work a job while in school because courses end up getting scattered across all 5 days of the week and scattered out across each day. Courses start at a few fixed times per year and run at only a single pace. Colleges are highly inconvenient and costly for students.

Children could start building up college level credit at much younger ages and earn degrees more cheaply and rapidly if standardized tests were available for a larger range of subjects. State universities or even private colleges could grant degrees. Even without a degree from an existing university one could get a certificate from a professional society stating that you have learned, say, enough chemistry to equal or even exceed the typical amount of knowledge learned by those who get a bachelor's degree in chemistry.

The College Board already offers advanced placement tests. Either that organization or colleges could administer a more extensive set of standard tests. Absolute national uniformity would not be necessary. After all, every college now has its own tests that vary from class to class from one year to the next. Groups of colleges could offer different sets of standard tests.

Since state governments operate a large number of universities and colleges (probably numbering into the thousands) the states seem the logical agents for carrying out a move toward standard tests and video recording of class lectures. Taxpayers money is already paying for substantial portions of salaries of academics. Some of that money could be directed more usefully toward developing tests, recorded lectures, and places where tests held for a large range of subjects at once.

By Randall Parker    2006 February 13 10:08 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (14)
2006 January 15 Sunday
Better Neighborhoods Do Not Help School Test Scores

A paper entitled "Neighborhoods and Academic Achievement: Results from the Moving to Opportunity Experiment" by Lisa Sanbonmatsu, Jeffrey R. Kling, Greg J. Duncan, Jeanne Brooks-Gunn and just published on the National Bureau of Economic Research web site finds that housing vouchers that allowed families to move to neighborhoods with lower poverty rates did not improve test scores of children in those families.

Families originally living in public housing were assigned housing vouchers by lottery, encouraging moves to neighborhoods with lower poverty rates. Although we had hypothesized that reading and math test scores would be higher among children in families offered vouchers (with larger effects among younger children), the results show no significant effects on test scores for any age group among over 5000 children ages 6 to 20 in 2002 who were assessed four to seven years after randomization. Program impacts on school environments were considerably smaller than impacts on neighborhoods, suggesting that achievement-related benefits from improved neighborhood environments are alone small.

Social scientists who have faith in the Standard Social Science Model (SSSM - see here for an essay on the SSSM) keep trying to find ways to make social environments overcome genetic endowment. They keep failing too. But liberal social environmental determinist hope springs eternal (or at least for another 5 years). So they'll keep trying until the genetic reductionists are able to demonstrate in great detail down at the biochemical level why they are engaged in an exercise in futility.

Mind you, even without cheap DNA sequencing to allow identification of all the alleles that really matter for scholastic performance social science evidence is already available in copious quantities to disprove the SSSM. But the evidence is ignored. Though cracks in the SSSM are going to bring it down in several years in a way reminiscent of the collapse of faith in communism.

By Randall Parker    2006 January 15 05:29 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (5)
2006 January 01 Sunday
Quality Of Average College Graduates Dropping In America

The US Department of Education National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) recently released their 2003 National Assessment of Adult Literacy (NAAL) and one result has attracted a fair amount of attention: prose skills of graduate students have declined since 1992.

The test measures how well adults comprehend basic instructions and tasks through reading -- such as computing costs per ounce of food items, comparing viewpoints on two editorials and reading prescription labels. Only 41 percent of graduate students tested in 2003 could be classified as "proficient" in prose -- reading and understanding information in short texts -- down 10 percentage points since 1992. Of college graduates, only 31 percent were classified as proficient -- compared with 40 percent in 1992. Schneider said the results do not separate recent graduates from those who have been out of school several years or more.

The results were based on a sample of more than 19,000 people 16 or older, who were interviewed in their homes. They were asked to read prose, do math and find facts in documents. The scores for "intermediate" reading abilities went up for college students, causing educators to question whether most college instruction is offered at the intermediate level because students face reading challenges.

I am not surprised by this. College education has been held out as a panacea. In order to boost enrollment colleges have had to lower standards. Smarter people were already going to college. To get more people to spend more years in college it was necessary to recruit from lower down on the IQ scale. At the same time, US immigration policies have increased the percentage of the populace that have lower intelligence levels. Sending those people off to college with racial preferences of course has lowered the quality of college graduates.

Fools argue that since people who get college degrees do better then the solution is to send more people to college. But a college education is just a proxy for a higher level of intelligence. The preference employers have for college graduates is a preference for higher intelligence employees. A repeal of the foolish US Supreme Court decision Griggs v. Duke Power would allow employers to use IQ tests instead and reduce what is effectively a big tax on the economy levied by educrats. This would save a lot of time and money now wasted on education that does not provide either marketable skills or real insights.

I wonder whether the decline has been greater for females than for males. Women are a higher percentage of college students than men. My guess is that at lower IQ levels women are a lot more likely to go to college than men of equal IQ and that the growth in the number of women going to college has lowered the average quality of those women who attend.

NCES Commissioner Mark Schneider made comments that support the argument that having a larger fraction of the population attending college does lower the average quality of students.

I will now present the results on change in scores between 1992 and 2003 for selected educational attainment levels. There were no increases in literacy in any of any of the educational attainment levels. Prose literacy decreased among adults at every level of education. This decrease calls out for more research. On the quantitative scale, there were no changes in literacy at any level of educational attainment. For document literacy, those with higher levels of education showed a decline while those with less education had no change. With scores dropping in prose literacy for every level of education, you might wonder why there was no overall decline in the average score for this type of literacy. This is because adults with higher educational levels tend to outperform those with lower educational levels, and the percentage of adults with high educational levels-those with "some college" or more-has been increasing, while the percentage with low levels of education has been declining. We have more higher-scoring adults with high levels of education, and fewer lower scoring adults with low levels of education, which offsets the fact that average scores for highly educated adults are declining.

My interpretation: lower IQ people are spending more time in school and while they are not rising up to the level of performance of the higher IQ people they are developing better language skills by attending school for longer periods of time.

The poorly educated college students remind me of poorly educated 12th graders. Stephan and Abigail Thernstrom report that 12th grade Hispanics know little more than 8th grade whites.

"Blacks nearing the end of their high school education perform a little worse than white eighth-graders in both reading and U.S. history, and a lot worse in math and geography. In math and geography, indeed, they know no more than whites in the seventh grade. Hispanics do only a little better than African-Americans. In reading and U.S. history, their NAEP scores in their senior year of high school are a few points above those of whites in eighth grade. In math and geography, they are a few points lower."

Also see here for more on the Thernstrom data.

By Randall Parker    2006 January 01 11:06 AM Entry Permalink | Comments (41)
2005 December 29 Thursday
No Child Left Behind Shafting Education Of Bright Students

Susan Goodkin argues that the No Child Left Behind act of the US Congress is increasing the incentive on schools to neglect the education of brighter students.

Conspicuously missing from the debate over the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act is a discussion of how it has hurt many of our most capable children. By forcing schools to focus their time and funding almost entirely on bringing low-achieving students up to proficiency, NCLB sacrifices the education of the gifted students who will become our future biomedical researchers, computer engineers and other scientific leaders.

The drafters of this legislation didn't have to be rocket scientists to foresee that it would harm high-performing students. The act's laudable goal was to bring every child up to "proficiency" in language arts and math, as measured by standardized tests, by 2014. But to reach this goal, the act imposes increasingly draconian penalties on schools that fail to make "adequate yearly progress" toward bringing low-scoring students up to proficiency. While administrators and teachers can lose their jobs for failing to improve the test scores of low-performing students, they face no penalties for failing to meet the needs of high-scoring students.

Among his many other sins George W. Bush signed NCLB into law. NCLB (which I call No Lie Left Behind), by slowing the rate of education of the most gifted, moves American education in the wrong direction. We already suffer from a declining percentage of smarties due to immigration. The smarties produce the designs and discoveries that raise all our living standards. They need to be educated at faster speeds, not slower speeds. But the political class is acting in willful ignorance of the fact that some groups are going to continue to perform poorly due to average lower intellectual abilities. Of course our current immigration policies are also a product of willful ignorance by elites that lie to themselves and to the rest of us about human differences. Big bright shining lies are very damaging.

My advice to parents of gifted children is to look for learning materials that will allow your children to learn much more than what is taught in school. Recorded lectures (whether audio only or also video) are one way to expose bright young minds to more complex and advanced materials. Also, consider giving early bright high school children advanced placement tests so that they can start striving to earn college credit while still in early adolescence.

If you have bright kids you have to accept that the educational system is increasingly arrayed against you. Intellectually bankrupt university education departments teach that the brightest and dumbest should be mixed together in the same classrooms. Poorly performing ethnic groups demand their students get proportional numbers of seats in classes for mentally gifted students. The US federal government incentivizes schools to pay more attention to the dummies and to neglect the smarties. To speak so bluntly and honestly about this may seem rude and crude to some of my readers. But the policies are both cruel to the students and economically destructive. We can't afford to be all feminine and sensitive when discussing important matters. Too much depends on bluntly speaking the truth.

By Randall Parker    2005 December 29 11:01 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (3)
2005 October 21 Friday
No Lie Left Behind Fails To Produce Educational Miracle

One of George W. Bush's faith-based initiatives, the piece of educational legislation called No Child Left Behind (more accurately labelled No Lie Left Behind), No Child Left Behind has not helped to improve test scores in the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) tests.

WASHINGTON – The national report card is in for No Child Left Behind, and the results are mixed: American fourth- and eighth-graders are continuing hard-won gains in mathematics, but are still struggling, or even losing ground, in reading.

That's the big picture from the 2004 National Assessment of Educational Progress, the "gold standard" for testing, released Wednesday. Under the 2002 No Child Left Behind law, national and state report cards are required every two years as an indicator of whether students are learning basic skills - and how schools may need to adjust to make sure they do.

The rate of improvement of math scores slowed.

Reading scores among fourth- and eighth-graders showed little improvement over the past two years, and math gains were slower than in previous years, according to a study released yesterday. The disappointing results came despite a new educational testing law championed by the Bush administration as a way to improve the nation's schools.

Most troubling for educators are the sluggish reading skills among middle-school students, which have remained virtually unchanged for 15 years, according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress, which administers the federal test and bills itself as the "nation's report card."

There's that troubling problem for simple minded politicians that the rate of progress was faster before No Lie Left Behind.

By some measures, students were making greater gains before the law was put into effect.

"The absence of really bad news isn't the same as good news, and if you're concerned about education and closing achievement gaps, there's simply not enough good news in these national results," said Ross Wiener, policy director of the Education Trust, a group that seeks to bring attention to the needs of poor and minority students and has consistently supported the federal law.

But Bush's faith remains unshaken.

Mr. Bush, meeting with Education Secretary Margaret Spellings at the White House, said he was pleased with the test. "It shows there's an achievement gap in America that is closing," Mr. Bush said.

A simple mind might think that NCLB has caused the slowing of the rate of test score improvement.

From 2000 to 2003, before the federal law took full effect in classrooms, the percentage of fourth graders scoring proficient in math rose eight percentage points, compared with four points this year, Mr. Jennings said, and the percentage of eighth graders proficient in math rose three points before the law, compared with the one-point rise this year.

The law has as a goal the closure of the proficiency gap by 2014. But projections of current trends show that the date is unrealistic. Perhaps we just need to learn patience and wait 200 years.

Fourth-grade math students showed some of the most rapid progress in closing the achievement gap between black and white students, Mr. Kingsbury said. Extrapolating from those results, he said, black and white students would probably be performing at equal proficiency levels by 2034. Other results, like eighth-grade reading, suggest it will take 200 years or more for the gap to close, he said.

All this talk assumes that the performance gap is even closable using better teaching methods. I believe that the closure of the proficiency gap solely depends on offspring genetic engineering for enhanced cognitive capabilities. When will such biotechnology become readily available, cheap, and commonplace? Some years after that point the gap might cose. But even ready availability of the means to add intelligence-enhancing alleles to offspring is not a guarantee that all races will use the technology equally. So there's no guarantee the gap will ever close.

The Bush Administration is arguing that immigrants with a lack of English language proficiency are keeping down progress in reading. Well, certainly that's a contributing factor. A President who was really worried about that problem might even decide to stop the influx of immigrants who can't seem to attain a high level of English language proficiency. But we know that Mr. Bush has other priorities. However, if only immigrant language proficiencies were holding back reading improvements we would expect on a state level we'd see progress in states that aren't seeing much in immigration. But all tested states had no progress or got worse in reading.

At grade 8, no state had a higher average score in 2005 than in 2003, and 7 states had lower scores.

More effort put into raising the scores of less bright kids has hit a point of diminishing returns. Those kids are not going to start functioning at the level of bright kids. Therefore the gap between the races and between the economic classes will remain and progress will slow further. Bush's educational policy is guided by the politically correct view of racial differences in cognitive ability as laid down and enforced by the inequality taboo. As long as America's discussion of education is founded on falsehoods about human nature unrealistic policies will get enacted to pursue impossible goals.

The results from Connecticut are typical.

At the fourth grade level, the disparity between rich and poor was evident. According to the results, only 14 percent of Connecticut's economically disadvantaged students scored at or above the proficient level for reading, while 48 percent of their economically well-off peers reached the same level. That gap has persisted since 1998.

Meanwhile, the performance gap between whites and minorities on the eighth grade reading test has endured. While 42 percent of white students scored at or above the proficient level, only 11 percent of black students and 13 percent of Hispanic students reached the same goal. Fifty percent of Asian/Pacific Islander students were proficient or better.

Check out graphs on 4th and 8th grade math and reading scores over time. Note the "Accomodations Permitted" for handicapped people starting in 1996. That provides an additional way for schools to puff up their scores. The 8th grade scores strike me as more important because 8th graders are closer to the final product level of knowledge at the end of 12 grade or at the point where kids drop out of school.

Press emphasis on small fluctuations and increases in scores distract from a more important deeper pattern. Comparison across races is best done using standard deviations rather than the misleading changes in absolute percentage differences that the national politicians and the press prefer. The standard deviation differences between the races change little across decades. As long the standard deviation differences remain outside mainstream public policy discussions about educational outcomes and race the vast bulk of the public policy debates will take place based on a foundation of lies.

By Randall Parker    2005 October 21 07:25 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (4)
2005 October 17 Monday
De Facto Privatization Seen For Many State Universities

Percentages of budgets of state universities coming from state and local taxes have declined in recent decades.

The share of all public universities' revenues deriving from state and local taxes declined to 64 percent in 2004 from 74 percent in 1991. At many flagship universities, the percentages are far smaller. About 25 percent of the University of Illinois's budget comes from the state. Michigan finances about 18 percent of Ann Arbor's revenues. The taxpayer share of revenues at the University of Virginia is about 8 percent.

The cost of in-state tuition has gone up far faster than inflation.

The average in-state tuition nationwide for students attending four-year public colleges increased 36 percent from 2000-01 through 2004-05, according to the College Board, while consumer prices over all rose about 11 percent.

This is an argument for greater automation of education as a way to reduce labor costs. Why not record lectures on high resolution video and let kids watch lectures before they even set foot on university campuses? For many topics which have very objective material such as physics and math tests are automatable. Software could generate variations on test questions and automatically score tests as well.

State appropriatons haven't declined much but state enrollment numbers have increased rapidly.

"The air is filled with this rhetoric about privatization, but the evidence doesn't support it," Mr. Callan said. He noted that in straight dollar terms, state appropriations for public universities have not fallen much across the nation in recent years. They totaled $67 billion in 2001, $70 billion in 2002, $69 billion in 2003 and $69 billion in 2004, the last year for which nationwide data is available.

But because enrollments surged during those years by more than 1 million students, or 11.8 percent, per-student appropriations dropped more steeply than at any time since the early 1980's, to $5,721 from $6,874, according to the State Higher Education Executive Officers.

Again, automate. Automation would make education much more convenient and potentially much more rapid for anyone smart enough to focus intensely on a single subject. Watch lectures any time of the night or day and any day of the week. Watch many lectures quickly in succession. Take tests when you are ready rather than when a class's tests get scheduled.

State universities could film every class in their physics, math, chemistry, and engineering departments for starters. The most objective material with exact numeric and formula answers lends itself to automated testing. Upper division math classes which require proofs which can vary in approach and still be correct are harder to grade. But most of the more quantitative fields lend themselves to automated testing. On some topics such as economics and accounting some material can be tested in formats that lend to automation and some can not. Enough material could get tested automatically to allow big savings in labor costs and therefore in tuition costs.

By Randall Parker    2005 October 17 01:45 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (13)
2005 September 27 Tuesday
Fake Educational Miracle In Wake County North Carolina

Alan Finder of the New York Times claims that Wake County North Carolina has supposedly found a way to close the race gap in educational achievement.

Over the last decade, black and Hispanic students here in Wake County have made such dramatic strides in standardized reading and math tests that it has caught the attention of education experts around the country.

The main reason for the students' dramatic improvement, say officials and parents in the county, which includes Raleigh and its sprawling suburbs, is that the district has made a concerted effort to integrate the schools economically.

The "integrate the schools economically" is New York Times Orwellian liberal-speak for forced busing. The Times story is selling a liberal policy prescription that has not produced miracles in decades of trying. But this time is different. Forget all the accumulated evidence of history. Have liberal faith.

In Wake County, only 40 percent of black students in grades three through eight scored at grade level on state tests a decade ago. Last spring, 80 percent did. Hispanic students have made similar strides. Overall, 91 percent of students in those grades scored at grade level in the spring, up from 79 percent 10 years ago.

Note the use of "scored at grade level" as the bogey. This type of measure and on a test where such a high percentage of all races do well does not allow useful inter-racial comparisons. To do useful comparisons we'd at least need to know the average score for each race and also the test would have to be tough enough that all the scores were not bunched up.

When I saw this story my initial reaction was "Okay, so how did they cook the books?". One can make tests easier. That's my most likely guess for what happened. One can train students on questions extremely similar to the test questions. Test givers can fix test results or tell students the right answers. School administrators can manage to get poorer performing kids sent home sick on test days. Or a big demographic change in an area with rapid economic growth can change the types of students atttending some schools.

The Daily Howler adds in some important missing context for Wake County North Carolina.

Wow! Times readers felt a familiar glow; 80 percent of Wake County black kids scored at grade level on last spring’s tests! But here’s what Finder didn’t tell you—across the state of North Carolina, 77 percent of all black kids scored at grade level on those same tests! That’s right; the Times devoted this front-page story to a three-point difference in passing rates—a three-point difference in passing rates on tests almost everyone passes!

So you can grasp the grinding illiteracy found among New York Times ed writers, let’s make sure you understand how these numbers work. For example, how well did Wake County black fifth-graders do on last spring’s reading test? According to the state’s official results, 88 percent of Wake’s black students tested “proficient” on the state test. But then, 83 of black fifth graders tested “proficient” on this same test statewide! In short, the large majority of fifth-graders—black, white and brown—tested “proficient” all over the state! But you never learn that in Finder’s piece. Instead, you get a warm, fuzzy feeling about Wake’s score gains—score gains which Finder attributes to a particular aspect of Wake’s educational program.

Have Wake’s black passing rates doubled in the past decade? Almost—but then, the same thing has happened all over the state! (Data below. Any chance that the current tests are just easier?) Did 80 percent of Wake’s black kids pass last year? Yes—but so did black kids all over the state! In short, Finder is the latest illiterate making a joke of our educational discourse. If we actually care about school kids, he and his editor won’t be allowed within a hundred miles of this topic again.

The Daily Howler claims Finder didn't even get right the facts he did report:

By the way, Finder seems to be wrong when he says: “In Wake County, only 40 percent of black students in grades three through eight scored at grade level on state tests a decade ago.” In 1994-95, 52 percent of Wake’s black students passed the state test in reading. That same year, 50 percent of Wake’s black kids passed the test in math. But then, you can check that out for yourselves. Thanks to North Carolina’s excellent site, the data are there for the taking.

The Daily Howler says this latest story fits into a genre:

The bottom line in these stories is always this—there’s a simple solution to the prevailing disasters of low-income minority education. This claim makes pseudo-liberals feel good. And they get to pretend that red-state rubes are standing in the way of progress. “If only they were as enlightened as we, the problem would be over,” they get to say. “If only they’d adopt the enlightened plan that has worked such wonders in Raleigh!”

This genre has a basic story line: "we finally found the magic bullet for bringing up black and Hispanic academic performance up near white performance". People who like to read this genre are like women who are addicted to Harlequin romance novels. The girl has to meet her forever love again and again. Magically in each story we find ourselves back at the beginning where we can move once again toward the happy ending. This can happen in novels because a different fictional woman can find true love each time. But in real life it is pretty ridiculous when liberal reporters report this sort of story again and again and again.

This reminds of a post Michael Vassar wrote on just how far ahead the better students are from the poorer performers.

Here are the actual numbers. To some degree they speak for themselves, but here are the highlights. The top 10% of 4th grade students equal or outperform the bottom 25% (really over 45% after accounting for children excluded from the test and children who dropped out of high school) of 12th grade students, and the top 25% of students outperform the bottom 10% (really over 30% for reasons given above)! For your reference, roughly 25% of the US population gets a college degree, so the average person who will get a college degree has better math ability and reading comprehension in 4th grade than the bottom 4th of the population will have after 8 more years of schooling supposedly teaches them these subjects!

Aside: Those kids who are capable of learning so rapidly should get books and video lectures of college level subjects that would allow them to do far more intellectual development in their grade school and high school years. That those top students can be so far ahead suggests that conventional schools are holding them back.

The right measure of educational progress is not whether each kid has achieved some arbitrarily chosen proficiency standard for each grade. A far more accurate method of measuring achievement would be to give kids tests which allow the amount of knowledge in kids to be comparable across many grades. If 10 year old Johnny already knows enough to pass high school graduation proficiency tests then tests given to Johnny ought to be able to detect that. Tests given to 9 year old Jill ought to be able to detect that she already knows enough English but not enough math to qualify for high school graduation. The point here is that tests ought to measure each kid's levels of knowledge and intellectual skills on much longer scales of knowledge.

Abigail and Stephan Thernstrom have noted that NAEP scores allow cross-grade comparisons and the results do not bode well.

Blacks nearing the end of their high school education perform a little worse than white eighth-graders in both reading and U.S. history, and a lot worse in math and geography. In math and geography, indeed, they know no more than whites in the seventh grade. Hispanics do only a little better than African-Americans. In reading and U.S. history, their NAEP scores in their senior year of high school are a few points above those of whites in eighth grade. In math and geography, they are a few points lower.

If Wake County could show their black and Hispanic students have closed most of the NAEP gap with the white national average then I'd be impressed. But I think it exceedingly unlikely that they have done that.

Update: Over at Number 2 Pencil Kimberly Swygert covers this story with a link to Paul Peterson of the New York Sun who found that Wake County has little to brag about.

Intrigued by the story's claim that the percentage of Raleigh's students achieving proficiency had risen dramatically over the past several years, my research assistant, Mark Linnen, took it upon himself to check out the data available on the North Carolina Web site. Over the past 10 years, the percentage proficient or better in grades 3-8 in Raleigh (Wade County) had in fact risen by 13% in math and 12% in reading between 1995 and 2005. That seemed to confirm the bragging of local officials - until it was discovered that, statewide, proficiency rates were up by 21% in math and 19% in reading - gains that outstripped those in Raleigh by over 50%. Nor did the proficiency rates of Raleigh's black and Hispanic students climb any faster than the statewide average for these groups. In fact, the gains were somewhat smaller.

Not that proficiency rates in North Carolina mean much. The state has some of the worst state standards in the country. Last spring, my Education Next co-editor, Rick Hess and I gave North Carolina's proficiency standards one of the worst marks in the country - a D minus. (By comparison, South Carolina got an A.) So low were the standards that 85% of all North Carolina eighth graders was said to be proficient in reading, despite the fact that only 29% of the state's eighth graders was found proficient on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, the nation's report card.

North Carolina's proficiency test is dumbed down. How predictable. Many educational bureaucracies are very deceptive. Do not trust their emotional pleas about how they care about children.

Kimberly Swygert also points to a New York Times article on poor black and Hispanic performance in Princeton's high school. That result exactly contradicts the argument that the New York Times tried to make about Wake County North Carolina. In Princeton New Jersey putting back and Hispanic kids in the same school as very smart upper class white kids doesn't help raise black and Hispanic scores. Integration does not help. This is not new news.

Nobody knows how to raise black and Hispanic scholastic performance to white levels, let alone to Korean or Ashkenazi Jewish levels. The whole mainstream national debate about education is deeply dishonest because only environmental causes of the performance gap are politically acceptable. Genetic causes are taboo. The claim that only environment causes performance gaps between races is the great liberal bright shining lie of our era.

By Randall Parker    2005 September 27 02:40 AM Entry Permalink | Comments (49)
2005 July 11 Monday
Kids Transferred To Better School Score No Better In Florida

When students in Broward County Florida were transferred to schools where children score higher the transferred kids did no better as a result of the transfer.

Broward County students who transferred out of low-performing schools last year under the federal No Child Left Behind Act didn't gain a significant academic boost by changing classrooms and teachers, according to a report released by the school district on Thursday.

The analysis of 842 transfer students shows they did no better on state tests than their peers who decided to remain at their old campuses.

It's the first study to evaluate President Bush's signature education reform program, according to the U.S. Department of Education.

Is anyone surprised by this? Schools where kids do better are scores where there are smarter kids. Transferring dumber children to schools full of smarter children isn't going to cause intelligence to just rub off on the dumber kids when they are playing with the smarter kids on the playground.

The transferred kids were disciplined more often in their new schools.

There was a difference, however, in discipline problems. The researchers found that transferred students were more likely to be sent to the principal's office or sent home as punishment.

I can think of a couple of potential explanations for this result. One is that the kids transferred from schools that have unruly atmospheres. The teachers and principals in those schools have given up trying to discipline for any but the most flagrant misbehaviors. Then the kids get transferred to schools which are more orderly and calm and suddenly the same behaviors cause a kid to be sent to the principal's office.

Another possibility is that the dumber transfer students are getting placed in classes with smarter students who get taught materials that is over the heads of the dumber students. So the dumber students, bored, resentful, and frustrated, act out and start pounding on the kids sitting next to them.

If the transferred kids were given IQ tests and the kids in the schools they were transferred to were also IQ tested my guess is that the bulk of the difference in their performance at learning material would be explained by innate differences in cognitive ability.

As long as the official ideology of America's ruling class is that America is Lake Woebegon where all children are above average the utter stupidity of No Child Left Behind will continue. Schools that have special classes for brighter students will continue to be pressured to cut back on curricula aimed at the brighties. Leftie ideologues in universities will continue to look for ways to ignore the fact that some people are smarter than others by, for example, withdrawing from the National Merit Scholarship program.

The UC says the selection process for the scholarships is flawed, as 97 percent of applicants are wiped out of contention solely because they do not score high enough on the test. Out of 1.3 million test takers, only 16,000 advance with eligibility for a National Merit Scholarship, and only a little over half of those students will actually receive a scholarship, according to a briefing from the UC in conjunction with the academic council's resolution on the issue.

The unempirical believers in the secular religious faith of equality just refuse to accept that some 3% segment of the population is smarter than the other 97%. This is not written in the Gospel they were taught to believe. It is an especially offensive and heretical notion because that top 3% does not have the same racial distribution as the bottom 97%. By banning the National Merit Scholarship program from their campuses they are publically demonstrating their allegiance to the one true secular faith. George W. Bush should be touched by this faith-based initiative. Our secular educational institutions are dedicated to building a faith-based society and they have found ways to do this without falling afoul of the constitutionally mandated separation of church and state..

Update: California Lieutenant Governor and Hispanic Cruz Bustamante opposes the use of a test on which Hispanics score lower on average.

Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante, who is also a member of the UC Board of Regents, recently sent a letter out to the UC campuses that still participate in the National Merit program, urging the chancellors to “abolish the practice of awarding merit scholarships solely on the basis of PSAT scores.”

Bustamante predictably will oppose anything merit-based because his group doesn't do as well on merit.

Update II: Minor quibble: the PSAT might select down to only 1% in the first pass of the National Merit program.

UC critics of the National Merit program fault its reliance on the PSAT, a 2-hour and 10-minute practice SAT taken by 1.3 million high school juniors yearly. The PSAT serves as the initial screening test for the National Merit program and is used to eliminate nearly 99% of the candidates and reduce the group to 16,000 semifinalists.

That's even more selective and therefore an even greater sin against secular religious orthodoxy.

Update III: The results above are not an argument for vouchers. The parents who pay high housing prices to live in upper class neighborhoods are doing so in part to send junior to schools where no misbehaving lower class kids will disrupt classes. This is why the vouchers movement has failed repeatedly. It threatens to allow any kid to get into schools which are now the almost exclusive preserves of the children of the cognitively more able.

In fact, a major reason why smaller class sizes helps is it reduces the number of disruptive kids per class. If all the kids are quiet and calm then class sizes can be larger with little decrease in learning quality. Efforts to mix kids together via forced busing, vouchers, and the misguided NCLB folly harm the educations of the better behaved kids. Putting together kids of drastically different levels of cognitive ability in the same classroom increases disruption and tends to force teachers to slow down the rate of instruction to cater to the cognitively less able. Voucher proposals inevitably require schools to accept voucher applicants in order of application without any ability of schools to screen out less desirable students. So vouchers are going to be bitterly opposed by the middle and upper classes and with good reason.

By Randall Parker    2005 July 11 12:51 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (24)
2005 July 05 Tuesday
Many British Schools Have Sunk Into Mayhem

British TV reporter Alex Dolan went undercover as a substitute (in Britain "supply") teacher and taught in several lower class schools. She found widespread disruption by unruly students and little teaching getting done. (Daily Telegraph free registration req'd)

The girl was ignoring me and playing music on her mobile phone, so loudly that the rest of the class could hear. I kept telling her to stop. Then suddenly she lost control. Standing up, she put her face inches from mine and shrieked: "Don't make me hurt you. I swear to God I will do it."

I was two days into my undercover investigation for a Channel 4 Dispatches programme when this incident happened. It was the first time I had felt physically threatened in school and the feeling stayed with me for a long time. Although extreme, this was the type of behaviour I encountered again and again in the 16 secondary schools I went in to, eventually filming those that seemed to be representative of the problems I saw.

What struck me very early on was that poor, even outrageous indiscipline - children leaping across tables or wandering around brandishing fire extinguishers - had become acceptable. At one school, I was calmly advised by a female colleague to lock the classroom door while I was teaching, to "protect" myself and my class from the marauding groups in the corridors. The look of surprise on my face did not seem to register with her.

But the chaos is hidden from government inspectors.

When Ofsted inspectors arrived the week after for a two-day visit, however, the school was suddenly transformed. I got through a whole lesson without incident, the corridors were mayhem-free, the atmosphere calmer. The mystery was solved by a classroom assistant who told me in a hushed exchange in the lavatory that more than 20 of the most difficult pupils had been sent on a "day trip".

As inspectors monitored lessons, senior managers popped up taking classes that they did not normally teach. Experienced teachers from neighbouring schools were parachuted in. One teacher, who appeared seemingly out of nowhere, said: "I've been drafted in basically to give support to this department while HMI are in. It's a bit of a con-job really." Staff at three other schools told me that "hiding" problem pupils from inspectors was common practice.

Are these Ofsted inspectors too dense to figure out that they ough to drop in unannounced? Or do their political masters want them to get the Potemkin Village tour so that a good front can be made of it publically?

A small number of unruly children ruin the educations of other children. The school administrators obviously know who they are. Imagine how different these schools would be if the teachers and administrators had the authority to maintain order and to remove the worst students from the regular schools. But the ruling left-liberal ideology of the day is that everyone is equal in ability and children can't be judged or punished.

Britain has standardized tests called the GCSEs. Dolan mentions that results of those are manipulated. The same happens in the United States with teachers in lower performing schools by helping the students cheat and modifying test answers. Random assignment of outsiders to administer the tests would reveal a lot of that fraud.

By Randall Parker    2005 July 05 09:39 AM Entry Permalink | Comments (6)
2005 May 16 Monday
Per Pupil Spending In Arizona Public Schools Underreported

Susan Aud of the Milton and Rose Friedman Foundation and Vicki Murray of the Goldwater Institute have found that per pupil spending in Arizona public schools is widely unerreported.

Twenty years ago, TurboTax revolutionized income tax preparation.1 This analysis and accompanying database will bring the same simplicity, transparency, and accuracy to Arizona public school finance that Turbo Tax brought to the United States Internal Revenue Code by presenting complex Department of Education financial data in a clear and understandable way. Currently, the state does not synthesize the department’s multiple accounting systems, making it difficult for the public to know how much is actually being spent on students. This also makes it difficult for policymakers to obtain accurate figures to create informed education policy. For instance, the National Education Association, the country’s largest teachers union, says the state spends $5,009 per student, and Education Week’s annual Quality Counts ranking claims Arizona spends $5,487.2 With so many conflicting figures, how can Arizona policymakers and taxpayers know the cost of educating a student in an Arizona public school?

For the first time, with the database accompanying this study (available on the Goldwater Institute website at, policymakers and the public can readily access the most accurate per-student expenditures—by both student and district type—for all 218 regular Arizona public school districts. This database will also be updated as new information becomes available. This analysis explains Arizona’s base equalization formula funding and suggests an alternative education finance model. It focuses on the state base equalization funding tied to students to determine the net change in district revenue if a student transfers to a school outside the district.

Total per-student funding consists of two types—those that vary according to the number of students in a district and those that are fixed.3 The first type is referred to in Arizona as equalized base funding. This is the amount the state has determined is tied to students when they enter the public school system, when they leave it, or when they change districts. The second type, omitted from most published reports, includes local, county, non-equalized state, and federal funding. This is the portion of perstudent funding that is fixed, or not based on student counts, and remains with school districts if students leave.

This analysis finds that the average state base equalization funding per student ranges between $4,200 and $4,600, and the average per-student portion of nonequalized district funding is $4,309. Thus, the average total spending for an Arizona public school student is between $8,500 and $9,000. These are minimum averages because they apply to students who do not have special educational needs, such as learning or physical disabilities and English language learner status, and who do not attend schools in districts that are small and/or located in rural areas.

Thus, policymakers and the public can now see how much education funding is directly tied to students and how much stays with school districts. The online database breaks down state equalization base funding for students according to four categories and non-equalized district funding into per-student amounts according to local, county, state, and federal funding categories.5 With that data, policymakers can readily calculate the fiscal impact to school districts and the state if students were given education grants to attend private schools. For instance, if five percent of public school students in Arizona, roughly 40,000, transferred to private schools using elementary education grants worth $3,500 and high school education grants worth $4,500—both less than current state base equalization funding—the net savings to the state and local districts would have amounted to $32 million in fiscal year 2003.6 Total funding in half of the school districts would have remained unchanged, and in the other half it would have decreased by less than one percent.

The incorrect low estimates for per pupil spending have been used by political groups to justify increases in government funding of education.

In fact, citing the 2004 Quality Counts per-student spending figure, Arizonans for Voter Rewards and Education Funding, headed by Mark Osterloh of Tucson, filed an initiative mandating “the Legislature to pour nearly $2 billion more into the public school system to bring per-pupil education spending up to the national average. Arizona ranked 49th in spending in the most recent Education Week Quality Counts ranking at $5,487 per pupil. The initiative does not indicate how lawmakers should pay for a spending increase to the national average of $7,524 per student.” See Robbie Sherwood, “Feeling Lucky? Plan Would Reward Voting,” Arizona Republic, July 31, 2003.

If the numbers being bantered around for Arizona's per pupil public schools spending can't be trusted then what about other states? Are per pupil spending levels underreported in other states? Public schools bureaucrats have two incentives to underreport spending. First off, they can point to low per pupil spending and claim that any failures of their students to learn a lot are due to a lack of money. Second, a widespread public image of cash poor schools eases the task of getting more money appropriated for education.

Just as school systems have an incentive to underreport funding they also have an incentive to overreport performance. For example, a recent Harvard/Urban Institute study found much higher Hispanic and black drop-out rates than the school systems have been reporting. Also, standardized test cheating by teachers has been discovered in many school districts.

Standardized test results can not be trusted unless the tests are administered by proctors who are independent of the school system being tested. School financing needs to be made more transparent as well. We shouldn't have to wait for a free market think tank to pour over the books of a state to figure out how much is really being spent. But a big increase in transparency may not have the effect of improving the average quality of education. My guess is greater transparency will have the unintended consequence of segregating students more by cognitive ability. See my post "Housing Prices Increasingly Driven By SAT Scores".

Privatization probably can't improve school performance much either. However, privatization would be more cost effective.

By Randall Parker    2005 May 16 10:58 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (3)
2005 May 01 Sunday
Housing Prices Increasingly Driven By SAT Scores

Lauren Meade has an article in The Christian Science Monitor on how the increasing use of SAT scores as a guide to home buying is leading to inflation of home prices in high SAT score areas.

Between the rise of the Internet and new laws that require more standardized testing and easier public access to test results, home-buyers can much more readily compare public schools.


Cities on the coasts and in Southern states like Florida and Texas have the largest gaps in home prices and test scores. In Brookline, Mass., for instance, an additional $250,000 means the difference between living in a top-notch versus mediocre school district.

The starting price for a three bedroom, two-bath house in Brookline is $700,000, says Kathleen Alexander, a realtor at Century 21 Cityside. But one of the "best-kept secrets," according to Ms. Alexander, is the nearby Melrose-Stoneham area, where a comparable house sells for $450,000.

The difference? The caliber of the schools in the different neighborhoods. Brookline High School scored significantly higher on the 2004 SAT test than Melrose High School. Average scores at Brookline were 578 on the verbal portion of the test, and 598 on the math; at Melrose High they were 519 and 513, respectively.

I would expect to see less segregation of housing tracts by intellectual ability in fast growing areas with lots of new housing because when the housing is first built there is no track record to guide purchasing choices. New schools have no history. But older schools in stable population areas do have records. Differences in performance of neighboring school districts will tend to get amplified with time as upper class parents choose whichever school districts are better and thereby widen the student performance gap between schools.

There is an irony here. Laws such as "No Child Left Behind" (NCLB) which require standardized testing of students are claimed by their backers (including one George W. Bush) to help close the gap between low and high performing students. But the data collected to help improve school performance in lower performing schools is being used by brighter middle and upper class parents to more efficiently separate their children from less bright lower class children. Parents of bright kids enrolled in lower performing schools are looking at average school test results to see how bad the students are where they are sending Jill and Johnny. Many are moving to put their kids in better schools. Less bright parents will, on average be less able to afford to make such a move, less knowledgeable about how their school is doing versus other schools, and less motivated to do anything about it.

The other interesting angle here is technology. Technological advances have enabled the rise of the internet which makes it much easier for home buyers to find the information that lets them choose houses based on school performance (and crime rates too). Technological advances are combining with the mania for testing to bring greater transparency to the home buying market. I predict the gaps between the lower and higher performing schools will grow larger as mentally sharper parents increasingly migrate to separate their kids from children born to less bright parents.

The top school districts have high percentages of children with brainy parents. For example, the top school district in North Carolina educates the children of very highly educated faculty and staff at UNC Chapel Hill.

The Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools is one of two public school systems in Orange County, N.C. Located near the flagship campus of the University of North Carolina and the world renowned Research Triangle Park, we serve a community with one of the highest educated populations in America.

The district operates two high schools, four middle schools and nine elementary schools which serve more than 10,000 students.


Among the 117 school districts in North Carolina, Chapel Hill-Carrboro has:

  • Highest district-wide average SAT score: 1185
  • Highest percentage of students taking the SAT: 92.5 percent of seniors
  • Highest high school End-of-Course tests results
  • Highest ranked high schools on state ABC Program
  • Highest percentage of faculty with master's degrees or doctorates: 56 percent
  • Highest local funding of public education at $3890 per student; one of the highest total funding per student: $8424
  • Highest percentage of graduating students pursuing their education beyond high school: 81 percent to four-year colleges and universities and 9 percent to two-year community colleges
  • Highest percentage of schools achieving exemplary growth on state tests.
  • Lowest high school dropout rate at 1.25 percent.

One of the 14 districts in the US in the Minority Student Achievement Network (MSAN).
The district is the fourth largest employer in the county with approximately 900 teachers and other school-based professional staff, and more than half of those hold advanced degrees, including doctorates

The 1.25 percent drop-out rate for Chapel Hill North Carolina should be contrasted with the national 50% drop-out rate of blacks and 47% for Hispanics. In the Los Angeles Unified School District the Hispanic drop-out rate is an incredible 61%. Unfortunately, America's future is trending more toward Los Angeles.

Note that the average SAT score for a school tells only half the story. The students who do not take the SAT would, if they took the SAT, score lower than the students who do take the SAT. To be a primo school the school must have both high scores and high test taking rates.

Segregating one's smart offspring into school districts with similarly gifted offspring makes a lot of sense. In many school districts egalitarian political activists constantly force closure of programs and classes for smarter students. But in school districts dominated by the cognitve elite the classes are geared toward the needs of their on-average smarter children.

Both Chapel Hill High School and East Chapel Hill High are recognized in Newsweek magazine (March, 2001) for being in the top 100 high schools nationally for the participation of students in advanced placement (AP) course work.


Over 3500 students, or more than one-third of all students, receive services in gifted education. Each school employs at least one enrichment specialist and uses multiple criteria to identify students as gifted. In fact, in each classroom 40 to 45 percent of the students score at the 97th, 98th or 99th percentiles on state tests.

This is an especially interesting result for Chapel Hill because it is near a university which is of course dominated by overwhelmingly liberal faculty and staff. Highly educated liberals "talk left" in favor of equality for all and most give lip service in favor of racial preferences for other racial groups. But when it comes to their own families they "live right" by choosing to live in high scoring school districts and make sure that accelerated educational tracks are available in case their kids can handle the intellectual fast lane.

Check out a chart of Houston area school districts ranked by average SAT scores. Note that the second ranked school has 100% SAT test taking participation. Does that school require all of its students to take the SAT test?

Note that if you go searching for SAT scores for school districts a lot of the web pages that Google turns up are provided by realtors. For instance, see a realtor's tables for SAT scores in the Portland Oregon area. But state governments are also kind enough to make it easy for the cognitive elite to segregate their neighborhoods by intellectual ability. For example, the Oregon Department of Education kindly makes available downloadable school scorecards.

Note: If anyone can find a nice searchable national database of SAT scores by high school or by school district please post a link in the comments or email me. I'd like to find a web site with forms for searching their SAT scores database. Desirable features include the ability to order results from high to low or low to high, restrict searches to geographic areas, put qualifying ranges on SAT score results, and other similar qualifiers. What would be spectacular would be such a database combined with housing price information or income information. I've tried to find such sites but hit too many search results that were aimed at real estate buyers for particular geographic areas.

By Randall Parker    2005 May 01 01:07 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (10)
2005 March 22 Tuesday
Federal Court Decision For Berkeley School Defeat For Education

So-called civil rights activists won't be satisfied until they have wrecked our entire society.

A closely watched civil rights lawsuit involving the Berkeley Unified School District was settled out of court yesterday. African American and Latino students who filed a federal class action lawsuit, Smith v. Berkeley Unified School District, in August 2004 for being wrongfully expelled from Berkeley High School will be allowed to return to classes. The students alleged that they were denied their constitutional right to a formal hearing before being excluded from school for various disciplinary reasons.

"This is a noteworthy victory for the students and the community," said William Abrams, co-counsel on the case and senior partner at the law firm Pillsbury Winthrop LLP, who represented the plaintiffs on a pro bono basis. "Now that their due process rights have been enforced, the students can get back to the classroom and move forward with their education."

This is a noteworthy defeat for teachers, well behaved students, and the community.

I wonder whether William Abrams recognizes the right of better behaved students to not be assaulted or threatened or to not have their class time disrupted by unruly students. The victims of court rulings of this sort are the better behaved students who are prevented from learning by ill-behaved students and the teachers who are afraid (with good cause) of violent adolescent males. Better teachers are scared away from the schools which have the most dangerous students. Students are distracted from learning and are presented with the worst sorts of role models in the form of the most dangerous students.

The civil rights movement legal activists have become a mockery of what they purport to defend. Turning every institution in America into an extension of the legal system does not make the society more fair overall. Putting more obstacles in the way of school administrators who are trying to maintain a safe learning environment does very real harm.

The court should butt out of areas that are better controlled by elected school boards, elected local governments, and elected state governments. Judges acting as legislators are a bane on American society.

By Randall Parker    2005 March 22 03:08 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (14)
2005 March 16 Wednesday
The Nation Should Lose Confidence In Harvard's Faculty

The Harvard Faculty of Arts and Sciences (which I'm guessing does not include some of the specialized schools such as the medical school) voted for a motion stating a lack of confidence in Harvard President Lawrence Summers.

``This was a resounding statement that this faculty lacks confidence in President Summers and President Summers should resign,'' said anthropology professor J. Lorand Matory, author of the motion.


The measure passed 218 to 185 with 18 abstentions.


A less stern motion taking Summers to task for his comments on women and his leadership also passed 253 to 137 with 18 abstentions, faculty members said.

A parochial and small-minded Harvard faculty turns its back on science. How pathetic.

What is missed in the Boston Herald report above but brought out in a Harvard Crimson report on the same vote is that Matory is also an African Studies prof.

Wielding a giant “report card” failing Summers in every category of leadership, the rowdy group also surrounded Professor of Anthropology and of African and African and African American Studies J. Lorand Matory ’82 as he issued a statement to the press.

Matory submitted the lack of confidence motion that the Faculty passed—with 218 in favor, 185 opposed, and 18 abstaining—at yesterday’s meeting.

Many ethnic studies departments have low academic standards and were created as a sop to assorted ethnic groups. Summers earned the ire of the African Studies profs at Harvard when he criticised then Harvard African Studies prof Cornel West for spending most of his time in unscholarly pursuits. Summers' drive to raise the standards in ethnic studies departments made him a lot of enduring enemies. The racial preferences racket and the sexual preferences racket are natural allies in a battle against Summers.

In these two votes the Harvard faculty seems to have more severely disapproved what Summers said about women than they did about his performance overall. Well, the text of what Summers said about women (which I urge you to click thru to) was quite reasonable and was consistent with the existing body of social science and biological science research on sex differences and on psychometric research in particular.

It says something disappointing about the human race in general that so many high IQ faculty at Harvard University can be so blatantly irrational and in denial about human nature. Higher IQ combined with large amounts of education are obviously not sufficient to ensure that people are willing to learn and accept the truth regardless of any implications. Therefore when genetic engineering to raise IQ becomes possible large groups of humans will continue to embrace mythologies all the while proclaiming themselves to be reasonable and well-informed.

Steve Sailer says Harvard's elite has unresolved contradictions in their beliefs about IQ.

Yet, Harvard's IQ elitism sharply contradicts its professed egalitarianism. The typical Harvard professor or student considers himself superior to ordinary folks for two conflicting reasons: first, he constantly proclaims his belief in human equality, but they don't; and second, he has a high IQ, but they don't.

Further, he believes his brains weren't the luck of his genes. No, he earned them. Which in turn means he feels that dumb people deserve to be dumb.

For insights into why a mostly male and very high IQ faculty would vote to condemn a highly rational and informed discourse on sexual differences see Steve Sailer's essay Why (Some) Men Don’t Support Summers.

Should Summers have made his speech in the first place? I have to take issue with Razib over at Gene Expression on his contention that it was unwise for Summers to make his sexual differences speech.

OK, as president of Harvard, this was a stupid thing to say. That's pretty obvious. This sort of stuff is left to academics who have tenure and who are battling it out in journals. In fact, some of the scholars Summers cited are doing just that.

If academics are busy arguing about, say, some 2 million year old skull or the intricacies of quarks in physics there are probably no implications for university governance in such disagreements. But the whole reason Summers was invited to give his talk in the first place is that the question of the causes of differences in sexual representation on the faculty of Harvard has policy implications for the governance of Harvard. If sexist male faculty members are the cause of the difference in sexual representation on Harvard's faculty then that has very different policy implications than if less female interest in working 80 hour weeks or a narrower IQ distribution in females are the reasons for the difference in outcomes. Summers can not responsibly carry out his job and make correct decisions if he ignores the scientific evidence on sexual differences. He can't ignore the evidence and still have an honest discussion with Harvard faculty and sexual representation at Harvard.

The correct policy response for one factor (say unfair discrimination) as a cause of the male domination of Harvard faculty is the wrong policy response if another factor (say a smaller standard deviation in female IQ or average difference in interests or in drive) is the cause. Many women faculty members are making demands on the Harvard Corporation that may be entirely unjustified if unfair discrimination is not the reason few women get tenure at Harvard. So how can Summers not address the possible reasons for the difference in outcomes when he responds to these women?

Imagine the women were demanding that Harvard propitiate the rain god that is causing too much rain to fall in Cambridge Massachusetts. Should Summers respond by saying he'll take their complaints under advisement and then let the faculty debate the causes of the rain god's anger at Harvard? Or should he trot out scientific research on what causes weather? Are our universities to be justified based on Enlightenment principles about truth and reason and science or not? To argue that Summers should not discuss social and biolgical science research underlying sexual differences is to accept the attempts of irrational people to control the debate in universities. The people opposing Summers are ideologues. They should be treated as such. Arguments that are presented with rigor and scientific evidence should always be treated as legitimate in academia.

One other point: Harvard is hypocritical when it comes to whether under and overrepresentation of groups is acceptable. Don't expect to hear Harvard's faculty complaining about overrepresentations of a number of other categories aside from males.

And one final point: the obvious character flaws of Harvard's elite serve as a useful reminder that the nation needs to embrace technology that breaks up the higher education oligopoly. Mass filming of college lectures would bring true competition for each individual course. Rather than signing up for education at a single college you could pick and choose over hundreds of thousands of courses of lectures. Individual courses should be unbundled and made available cheaply.

By Randall Parker    2005 March 16 11:32 AM Entry Permalink | Comments (8)
2005 February 27 Sunday
Bill Gates Joins Governors In Lake Woebegone Educational Fantasy

The education debate among political leaders in America is increasingly becoming a fantasy reminiscent of Lake Woebegone Minnesota. Lake Woebegone, an invention of Humorist Garrison Keillor of the Prairie Home Companion, is a mythical American town which Keillor enters as a story teller by saying "Welcome to Lake Wobegon, where all the women are strong, all the men are good-looking, and all the children are above average." Well, our educational debate sounds like it is conducted by people who live in Lake Woebegone. Along Lake Woebegone's citizens are America's governors and Microsoft founder and chairman Bill Gates who met together recently to jointly fantasize that all American children are above average and therefore capable of doing college level work.

"The key problem is political will," he said, discussing resistance to change. He said it was "morally wrong" to offer more advanced levels of coursework to high-income students compared with that offered many minority and low-income scholars. And he trumpeted the goal of preparing every high-school student for either two- or four-year college programs.

"Only one-third of our students graduate from high school ready for college, work and citizenship," he said. Gates spoke bluntly about the high dropout rates in America compared with those of other developed countries, and the differences between America's high-tech graduate degrees and those in India and China.

Never mind that over half (and rising) of the American population have IQs less than 100. In Lake Woebegone America the mainstream fantasy is that everyone can and should go to college. His argument amonts to asserting that all children are above average. I seriously doubt he really believes that though.

Gates says the current structure of high schools is obsolete and he is correct.

"Our high schools were designed 50 years ago to meet the needs of another age," said Gates, whose philanthropic foundation has committed nearly a billion dollars to the challenge of improving high schools. "Until we design them to meet the needs of this century, we will keep limiting, even ruining, the lives of millions of Americans every year."

Speaking of another age: I think our immigration system is designed for a previous age when manual labor and less skilled labor were more valuable.

Governor Warner of Virginia speaking at the same meeting sees terrible economic ramifications in the performance of US students.

Gov. Mark Warner of Virginia, a Democrat who is chairman of the association, said: "Three out of 10 students who enter high school do not graduate. Four out of 10 who do graduate lack the skills and knowledge to go on to college or to succeed in the work force. The economic ramifications of that could be devastating to our country."

Why does the United States have such a low rate of high school graduation? Only 50% of blacks and 53% of Hispanics graduate from high school. If politically correct dogmas didn't reign in the mainstream of America's press and higher education institutions one might expect Governors to get together and call for an end to immigration of groups that have low high school graduation rates and low college graduation rates even among 2nd, 3rd, and 4th generation descendants of those immigrants.

Warner goes along with the charade that all students can excel in school.

“We can’t keep explaining to our nation’s parents or business leaders or college faculties why these kids can’t do the work,” said Virginia Democratic Gov. Mark Warner, as the state leaders convened for the first National Education Summit aimed at rallying governors around high school reform.

Does he really believe what he is saying? Warner and others of his ilk are going to have to keep on explaining why some students do poorly in school because they insist on putting the bulk of the blame for poor performance on the schools. Obvious causes such as low intelligence, low motivation, and other causes that lie within the students are ignord in their Lake Woebegone fantasies. So the mainstream debate about educational policy in America remains very unrealistic.

Governor Mike Huckabee of Arkansas also spins a fantasy about the primacy of environmental stimulation.

Gov. Mike Huckabee, R-Ark., said the most reliable predictor of success in college is a student’s exposure to challenging high school courses — and that governors know they must act.

Oh come on Mike. What do you think is being measured? Did you even consider the possibility that much brighter kids might be far more inclined to take "challenging" classes in high school? And what are "challenging" classes? To a kid with 90 IQ simple algebra is very challenging. To a kid with 160 IQ it is unlikely that anything taught in 99.9% of American high schools is challenging at all. They sit in high school classes bored out of their skulls at the slow rate that course material is taught. Governors are elected officials with considerable prestige and power in American society. But it is hard to take them seriously when they get together and peddle predictably wrong conventional wisdom.

Is there a bottom half of the Bell Curve? No, can't say that. At least publically Bill Gates essentially rejects psychometric research.

"Only a fraction of our kids are getting the best education," Gates said. "Once we realize that we are keeping low-income and minority kids out of the rigorous courses, there can only be two arguments for keeping it that way: Either we think they can't learn, or we think they're not worth teaching.

"The first argument would be factually wrong. The second would be morally wrong."

This is kinda funny coming from him. On other occasions he has talked in a very un-Lake Woebegone fashion.

Here is Gates in a book of his:

A collaborative culture, reinforced by information flow, makes it possible for smart people all over a company to be in touch with each other. When you get a critical mass of high-IQ people working in concert, the energy level shoots way up.

Here is Gates in a 2003 interview:

MM: Last night [at the Fall Comdex 2003 keynote address] you were talking about certain other companies who you think are real competitors, who are doing good work: Sony, Nokia, Google. What about those companies makes them the companies that you admire? What can Microsoft learn from them?

BG: Well, they have high-IQ engineers. We do too. A lot of great things happen when these companies that can take a long-term approach, and have real research, and have good engineers, go after interesting problems.

Here is Gates in 1996:

Here's another quote from the days when America's richest man could be more honest. A November 25, 1996 Fortune article by Randall E. Stross, entitled "Microsoft's Big Advantage - Hiring Only the Supersmart," featured some surprisingly frank statements by Bill Gates that sound like The Bell Curve on steroids:

Gates is blunt. "There is no way of getting around [the fact] that, in terms of IQ, you've got to be very elitist in picking the people who deserve to write software." … Microsoft could teach its employees in specific skill areas, but it could not instill intelligence and creativity - those, Gates said, were "reasonably innate." The best programmers, in Gates's view, are people who are "supersmart." … His self-confessed "bias" in hiring - "toward intelligence or smartness over anything else, even, in many cases, experience."

Where his own business is concerned Bill Gates is super realistic and we all know how well that realism has worked for him. If he wants to help our country he ought to try being realistic about the entire American population.

Restructuring elementary schools and high schools is not going to result in the creation of more high IQ students who are smart enough to appeal to Bill Gates as potential employees. The vast bulk of the super-brights are going to graduate from high school and go to college. However, there is one way in which educational restructuring in America could help Gates: If smart kids were allowed to get educated on much more rapid learning tracks via use of technology then they could graduate from high school and college years sooner and have easily 4 years added to their younger and smarter work years.

If Gates wanted to promote educational reforms that are in his company's economic interest he ought to push for the high resolution video recording of many college-level courses in scientific and technical fields so that bright teens could learn college material at a greatly accelerated rate while still living at home. He should fund the writing of college-level textbooks that can be downloaded for free by pre-college students. He also should fund the development of testing software that would automate tests delivered over the internet. Then bright people could enter the work force with younger minds and work more years while their minds are youthful and most vigorous.

The chattering class that discusses educational reform spouts lots of nonsense. Some do this out of ignorance. Some do so because they fear to break the taboos that must be broken in order to be able to discuss human minds realistically. Still others have a variety of self interests for propagating falsehoods. While some want to deceive and some are ignorant those who are more realistic in their own minds ought to try harder to promote policies that would work well for what humans are like in reality. For example, the idea of creating specialized personal curricula by use of technology would be a good idea even if everyone had the same intellectual capacity. Technology can deliver content that caters to specific interests of each student and could deliver course content in much more flexible, higher quality, and cheaper ways.

Another way that schooling could be made more realistic without the promoters of new policies violating liberal taboos about human intelligence would be to promote vocational learning by admitting that not everyone wants to go to college. Even among those who do go to college some do not learn anything useful there and, well, the carpentry work, electrical work, steel work, and other vocations are still there and there is a market demand for people to do these sorts of jobs. The schools are not serving these people well by providing them with the opportunity to learn marketable skills in occupations that they either can or want to do.

By Randall Parker    2005 February 27 09:13 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (16)
2005 January 25 Tuesday
Feminists Undermining Reading Development Of Boys

Mark Bauerlein and Sandra Stotsky have an article in the Washington Post about how feminist changes in school books are turning boys off from reading.

The other report, "Trends in Educational Equity of Girls and Women: 2004," is from the Education Department. Between 1992 and 2002, among high school seniors, girls lost two points in reading scores and boys six points, leaving a 16-point differential in their averages on tests given by the National Assessment of Educational Progress. In the fall semester of kindergarten in 1998, on a different test, girls outperformed boys by 0.9 points. By the spring semester, the difference had nearly doubled, to 1.6 points.

Read the whole article for more depressing trends in education.

Why the widening gap? Feminists have gotten control of the curricula of grade schools and high schools and removed books that have stories that appeal to boys.

Unfortunately, the textbooks and literature assigned in the elementary grades do not reflect the dispositions of male students. Few strong and active male role models can be found as lead characters. Gone are the inspiring biographies of the most important American presidents, inventors, scientists and entrepreneurs. No military valor, no high adventure. On the other hand, stories about adventurous and brave women abound. Publishers seem to be more interested in avoiding "masculine" perspectives or "stereotypes" than in getting boys to like what they are assigned to read.

Boys are not allowed to read stories of boys being boys or men being men. Instead they are given books that portray ethnic group oppression, stories on how to be sensitive to the feelings of others, and other politically correct nonsense. The result is a decline in reading ability.

This brings to mind dizzy feminist MIT biology professor Nancy Hopkins who reinforced stereotypes about women recently when, near fainting, she fled from a talk by Harvard President Lawrence Summers on why women do not do as well getting tenured positions and advancing in the elite universities (great coverage here. The idea that there are, on average, biological differences in how male and female minds work or that the statistical distribution of ability is different in males and females are taboo facts in much of academia. Never mind that these are real facts. Never mind that brain differences in the sexes stretch all the way back to gene expression in early fetal development. Ideologues reject empirical results that clash with their secular religion. Though perhaps Hopkins' near fainting is understandable because any news that might undermine the feminist extortion racket would be costly to those who benefit so much from it. But that racket is exacting a high cost including fear on the part of more inquisitive and empirical academics who hesitate to put forth theories that clash with the assertions of feminist ideologues (and Pinker really is pulling his punches in his responses at that link). Oh, and also see Jane Galt on the reaction to the Larry Summers comments.

In an earlier and more realistic era in all likelihood an obviously very sensitive woman such as Ms. Hopkins would have been protected from upsetting discussions about serious facts of life by Victorian gentlemen who, aware of the need to shelter and protect the fairer sex, would have avoided discussing the harsh facts of life in her presence. The gentlemen would have been as quick to catch her when she fainted as they would have been to open physical doors for her. Plus, they would have had smelling salts ready to revive her. Those Victorian gentlemen also would have made sure that the local headmaster provided plenty of appropriate reading for young boys with stories of brave men exploring distant continents, defending the honor of women, hunting lions, battling seastorms, and riding into battle. Biographies of men who lived challenging lives would have inspired the boys to read and to strive in their own lives. But today we live in an increasingly feminized culture where boys are made to feel that there is something deeply wrong with their very nature while they are simultaneously told that they are not different from girls in any way outside of how they are socialized.

Patti Hausman has some great comments on the Larry Summers flap.

What is it like right now to be a student of Nancy Hopkins? To see your dissertation advisor as so fragile that she walks out of an academic meeting because she can't stand hearing an idea? What are students to do if they reach conclusions at odds with her thinking? What is it like to attend a university where the committee on the status of women feels free to chastise the president for discussing a legitimate topic supported by decades of peer-reviewed scientific research? What does his willingness to back off when confronted with their pressure say to students who want to pursue research on that topic? Or to students who want to pursue research on any controversial subject?

Invariably, many will argue that Summers upset female students by broaching the issue of whether males, as a group, have an edge in the cognitive abilities needed to succeed in science and engineering. Granted, this sounds like concern for the students, and perhaps it is. Regardless, it is wrongheaded. A university does not educate its students by insulating them from well-documented facts that some may find disturbing. Moreover, the notion that discussing group differences will affect the choices made by individuals is purely speculative. I have yet to see evidence that a woman with the ability and interest to pursue a career in physics will be deterred upon learning that such a pattern is relatively rare.

Of course, the conventional wisdom has long been that female students have not chosen science as a career because they have lacked female scientists as role models. Actually, what male and female students alike need as role models are people who act like real scientists.

Nancy Hopkins, Lawrence Summers, and members of Harvard's Standing Committee on Women have let them down. Bigtime.

Students are being let down from grade school onward by ideologues intent upon suppressing the truth about human nature. The damage the ideologues are causing is real and manifests in a variety of ways including declining reading test scores of boys illustrate. Another way the damage is being felt is in highly politicized tenure decisions that effectively place a big weight in favor of tenure candidates who have the right sex, ethnicity, or ideological beliefs. Also, the truth of what is known about human nature is being hidden from students. Our schools have been broken by ideologues promoting intellectual frauds. Our schools need to be fixed.

By Randall Parker    2005 January 25 12:47 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (5)
2004 December 07 Tuesday
Computers Reduce Childhood Learning

At least so far computers are not a panacea that automatically accelerate learning.For too many kids computers are a distraction that lower the rate of learning.

From a sample of 175,000 15-year-old students in 31 countries, researchers at the University of Munich announced in November that performance in math and reading had suffered significantly among students who have more than one computer at home. And while students seemed to benefit from limited use of computers at school, those who used them several times per week at school saw their academic performance decline significantly as well.


Mindful that computers are more common among affluent families, whose children often outperform more disadvantaged ones, the University of Munich researchers controlled for such variables as parents' education and working status.

When those were removed from the equation, having more than one computer at home was no longer associated with top academic performance. In fact, the study says, "The mere availability of computers at home seems to distract students from learning." Computers seem to serve mainly as devices for playing games.

But if games were kept off the computers would this pattern still hold?

Also, I'd love to see a study done like this but with IQ testing of the students. Are the kids with computers in upper class homes just as smart on average as those without computers?

By Randall Parker    2004 December 07 01:49 AM Entry Permalink | Comments (8)
2004 November 29 Monday
NAEP Math Tests Are Too Easy

The NAEP tests for comparing educational progress across schools are too easy.

Washington, D.C., (November 18, 2004) — A new report from the Brown Center on Education Policy at the Brookings Institution finds that math items on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) math assessment lack challenging arithmetic, often requiring skills that are several years below grade level. The findings cast a disturbing light on recent highly-publicized math gains as measured by the NAEP assessment.

Despite sharply rising test scores on both the NAEP Math and most state math tests, the Brown Center's analysis of the difficulty of the math items at fourth and eighth grade demonstrates that the NAEP test fails to assess essential arithmetic skills that are required for success in algebra and higher mathematics.

"The good news is that NAEP scores have risen dramatically in mathematics over the past decade," noted Tom Loveless, director of the Brown Center on Education Policy and author of the 2004 Brown Center Report on American Education. "But, given our findings, it is unclear whether this is a significant accomplishment in terms of substantial gains in mathematics skills and knowledge."

The National Assessment of Educational Progress, or NAEP as it is commonly known, assesses fourth, eighth, and twelfth grade students in math and reading. Scores on the math assessments have risen dramatically over the last 10 years, indicating that U.S. students are becoming more adept at mathematics.

But the Brown Center analysis shows that the NAEP math assessments rely on arithmetic skills that are far below the grade levels of the students being assessed. The analysis finds that almost all problem solving items use whole numbers and avoid fractions, decimals, and percentages – forms of numbers that students must know how to use to tackle higher order mathematics like algebra.

Whenever you see claims that some educational gap between races is closing or that some school has made big progress in improving educational outcomes the question you should immediately ask yourself is whether some educational bureaucracy is trying to lie to you with lousy tests and deceptive statistics. More often than not the answer is "Yes". Really, I'm not exaggerating.

Middle school math teachers may not all know enough math to teach math. (PDF format)

The report also includes a national survey of middle school mathematics teachers and finds that most middle school mathematics teachers did not major in mathematics, do not hold a teaching certificate in the subject, and are not getting the kinds of professional development that will help them gain essential content knowledge.

For this analysis, the Brown Center on Education Policy surveyed a random sample of 252 middle school math teachers nationwide. The survey found that fewer than one-fourth (22%) of the teachers majored in math while in college. Additionally, less than one-half of middle school math teachers – only 41% – hold a teaching certificate in mathematics.

My guess is that teachers unions and the culture of educational bureaucracies prevent more talented math teachers from being paid more. People who teach harder subjects ought to get paid more since it takes more brains to master those subjects well enough to teach them. Otherwise those people smart enough to master hard subjects will decide not to go into teaching in the first place. But that common sense attitude clashes with the socialistic beliefs of the educrats.

Given the lack of financial incentives do not expect the average talent level of middle school or high school math teachers to rise dramatically any time soon. Whether that is a bad thing is hard to say. After all, many smart people who go into industry instead of into teaching will innovate, invent, and competently manage companies to produce wealth that will fund schools and a great many other things. Perhaps a better solution to the deficiencies of teacher skills is filmed lectures of the most talented teachers. Then a single great teacher could teach literally millions of kids.

You can read the full report. (PDF format)

Update: As for my contention that you can't trust the test results: Check out some evidence for teacher cheating on standard student tests.

By Randall Parker    2004 November 29 12:40 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (7)
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?

By Randall Parker    2004 September 05 02:58 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (9)
2004 July 06 Tuesday
US Military Developing Computer Game To Learn Language, Culture

Regular ParaPundit readers are aware that I consider it a big mistake for the US military to deploy soldiers to Afghanistan and Iraq with so little training in local language and culture. Well, the US military appears to be aware of the seriousness of this deficiency. A New York Times report has brought to my attention a research program by the Office of Naval Research (ONR) and the Defense Advanced Project Research Agency (DARPA) to build a local language and culture training game for the Special Operations Command of the US military.

Sergeant Smith is not a real soldier, but the leading character in a video game being developed at the University of Southern California's School of Engineering as a tool for teaching soldiers to speak Arabic. Both the game's environment and the characters who populate it have a high degree of realism, in an effort to simulate the kinds of situations troops will face in the Middle East. Talle is modeled on an actual Lebanese village, while the game's characters are driven by artificial-intelligence software that enables them to behave autonomously and react realistically to Sergeant Smith. The Tactical Language Project, as it is called, is being developed at U.S.C.'s Center for Research in Technology for Education, in cooperation with the Special Operations Command. From July 12 to 16, real Special Forces soldiers at Fort Bragg in Northern California will test the game and put Sergeant Smith through his paces.

The characters in the game respond to the game-players actions by increasing or decreasing their trust in him.

One of their most critical beliefs is their trust level, Ms. Si said. If Sergeant Smith behaves appropriately, he will gain the characters' trust and they will help him; if not, he is likely to cause suspicion.

A USC press releases provides a lot more detail. (worth reading in full if this sounds interesting)

Part of the system, the “Mission Skill Builder,” resembles an intensive version of the language laboratory programs that have been in use for generations. in these students imitate and practice words and phrases pronounced by native speakers.

“While our system is similar to drill-and-practice language programs that have been in use for some time, the Skill Builder incorporates some important innovations,” Johnson said.

These include:

  • speech recognition technology that is able to evaluate learner speech and detect common errors;
  • pedagogical agent technology that provides the learner with tailored feedback on his performance; and
  • a learner model that dynamically keeps track of what aspects of the language the learner has mastered and in what areas the learner is deficient.

The game sounds like it is structured in ways very much like conventional adventure games with the added complexities that the game player must be able to speak Arabic into language recognition software and the simulated agents are written by experts in artificial intelligence to embody a lot of Arabic culture in their values and behavior

The examination or application part of the training system, the "Mission Practice Environment," is still more innovative. It is designed to give students an unscripted, unpredictable, and therefore challenging test of their mastery of these elements.

In this segment, students wearing earphones and microphones control a uniformed figure moving through a Lebanese village, complete with outdoor coffee bar. They meet animated Arabic speakers, who (thanks to artificial intelligence driven voice recognition programs) can carry on free-form conversations.

"These AI figures can understand what the students say, if it's said correctly - or won't, if it isn't. And they will respond appropriately," said Johnson.

In the exercise, after exchanging greetings the student learns the names of locals, the name of the place, the identity of the local headman and the location of his house, and must follow these directions through the game interface to get there.

"In typical videogame fashion, the idea is to get to the next level," said Johnson. "In this game, in order to get to the next level, the learner has to master the linguistic skills."

The program already has features to adapt it to each individual user, noting consistent errors or difficulties, which can be targeted for extensive or remedial practice.

So far, researchers have completed approximately seven hours of the program. The full program will have about 80 hours of instruction, and introduce perhaps 500 carefully chosen words of the "Levantine" Arabic spoken in Lebanon to learners. If all goes as planned, the system may be deployed next year.

Computer automation is the future of education in general. Computers are cheap and their patience unlimited. Computer games that correct your errors and automatically record and report on progress are needed across a large range of domains of knowledge unrelated to the US military. This is a sign of things to come.

By Randall Parker    2004 July 06 04:52 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (13)
2004 July 05 Monday
American Public Underestimate Amount Spent On Public Schools

More is spent per pupil in American schools than the general public believes.

Most people have no idea how much money public schools spend per child. Almost half of those surveyed (48 percent) estimated that public schools spend less than $5,000 per pupil. Nearly 3 in 10 Americans think that public schools spend between $5,000 and $10,000; only 14 percent believe that schools spend over $10,000 per student.

Not even close to the mark. The U.S. Department of Education says total spending was actually $9,354 per student in 2001-02. Given the pace of increases in previous years, this year's per-pupil spending undoubtedly approached if not exceeded $10,000.

So: Almost 86 percent of the public underestimates how much money public schools get. And the average American is off by a factor of two.

It is a little known fact spending on schools has been going up faster than inflation for decades and that the result has not been any measurable improvement in outcomes. Yet teachers unions are convincing a gullible and uninformed public that the schools are starved for dollars.

For example, check out per pupil spending trends in New York City, Texas, and California (40% per pupil inflation adjusted increase from 1980 to 1999). Yet the continued cry is for more money. The problem is not a lack of money. One problem is the teachers unions. Another problem is the multiple levels of bureaucracy which includes a rapid growth in federal spending which is following on the heels of a shift of spending and disbursement and control up to the state level. Yet another is an increase in the number of lousy students due to immigration trends. But we have to keep hearing the lie that the problem is a lack of money and we have to keep spending more money that is not going to help any.

By Randall Parker    2004 July 05 04:49 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (15)
2003 October 07 Tuesday
Accelerate Education To Increase Tax Revenue, Reduce Costs

Education costs too much. The costs of education are rising faster than the economy as a whole. This is not sustainable in the long run. At the same time, the economic returns on all this education are questionable because quite a lot of what is taught has little economic value. Plus, time spent in school is time not spent working, saving, and paying taxes.

Costs of education have been rising and are projected to continue to rise at unsustainable rights. (PDF format)

The rise in the burden of education is similar. Education costs per student rose 2.6 percent per year over the past two decades. In addition, the fraction of 18 to 22-year-olds going to college is rising by about two percent per year. The couple’s children’s expected use of educational resources reaches a maximum when she is 44 and he is 46, at $32,000 per year, when their annual incomes are $136,000.

The costs of education at the college level are especially steep.

In 2001, K-12 spending was $8,600 per student and college spending was $31,000.

I propose a straightforward reform: accelerate the education of youth. Get people thru school and out into the job market at an earlier age. A smaller first step incremental reform would be to encourage really bright children to start taking college courses during the summer while they are still in high school. If they do well they should be encouraged to start college a year or two earlier. By spending time in summer college classes and by starting college at a younger age kids could get out of college from one to four years sooner depending on their motivation and level of intelligence.

This reform would reduce the total amount of money spent on education. It would also send youth out into the job market sooner. This would reduce the total costs of child-raising to parents and also turn the kids into taxpayers sooner. An entry into the workforce at an earlier age would, for most people, increase the total number of years spent as taxpayers and so they'd pay more in lifetime taxes while simultaneously reducing the amount they receive in benefits provided by both governments and parents. All-year-round education would also increase the utilization rates of the capital invested in the bricks, mortar, furniture, books, and other physical infrastructure of schools.

The birth dearth and rising life expectancies are combining to create demands on future government spending that are far in excess of what current tax rates can finance. There are political limits to how high taxes can be raised because, well, the vast majority of us quite reasonably don't want to spend most of our lives working for the government. By accelerating the pace of education to move people into the workforce at an earlier age we will simultaneously reduce the cost of child-raising, lower the cost of education, and increase the total amount of revenue generated from taxes while also increasing the total length of working life available in which to save for retirement.

Another likely salutary effect of accelerated education will be to increase the birth rate. Long numbers of years spent in school is selecting against reproduction. Reduce the number of years spent in school and people will have children sooner and they will have more children on average. Those people who delay child-raising because of a longer period spent in school and who therefore have fewer children are also, on average, higher income earners who pay more taxes. Therefore they are the ones who are most able to pay for the raising of their own children without recourse to government programs for medical and other assistance. Those are the people we should want to be having children. High income taxpayers should have more children sooner. But in order for that to happen they need to enter the labor market sooner. In order to make that happen they need to study 12 months of the year when growing up and get thru college years sooner than is current practice.

One objection that can be made to my argument is that people in high school and college often work during summers and so they are partially in the labor market before graduation. Yes, but they work at lower skilled, lower productivity, and lower wage jobs than the kinds of jobs they will do once they graduate from college (and if not then why the heck are we spending so much money on colleges to teach them?). Training that raises economic value of labor should come sooner in a child's life and should come more rapidly.

Train for job skills first: There is an argument to be made for the idea that if, say, a person is going to become an engineer then that person should take the courses specific to the job skill of engineering before taking general education courses. That way, if the student is going to work while in school then at least in the later years of education the part-time job worked at while still in school could pay more and produce more than if the productivity-enhancing classes came more toward the end of the college educational experience.

Note that my proposal does not require legislation or policy decisions by governments to start to be put into practice. People who live near colleges could start seeing about summer course offerings for their early teen children. Courses that are in essential sequences for later courses such as math and science courses would be particularly valuable. Also, the course matter of math and science courses tends to be more objective and a tougher test of a child's ability to handle college-level work. If a 14 or 15 or 16 year old kid does poorly the transcripts don't have to be forwarded to other colleges and the courses can always be retaken. If the kid does well then great. Valuable knowledge and skills will be acquired and time and money saved in the future.

Update: Some object to my proposal by arguing that teachers do not want to teach in the summer. That is not a problem. First off, to accelerate education we must automate education and make it far less labor intensive. Pre-recorded high res videos of college lectures are essential. Have a choice of 1000 different people teaching first year college calculus. Have a choice of another 1000 teachers doing college physics lectures. Ditto for hundreds or even thousands of other courses.

Currently the same courses get taught again and again. Most of the teachers are nowhere near as good as the best of the teachers. But if many get video recorded people will be able to compare notes in online review rating systems on which explanation of, for example, elementary statistics is best. Or who is best at intro macroeconomics? Or who is best at digital logic design?

State university systems could record their classes and then trade lecture series with other state universities. Then these classes could be made viewable by the high school students in each state. How fast you learn will become in large part a function of how many hours you will sit yourself in front of a computer screen to watch lectures and to take practice tests on the web.

Update II: The other essential part of accelerated education is testing for certifications separated from taking of classes. Be able to go into a room to take proctored tests. The test supervisors would have a large assortment of tests available for you to take. You'd say "I want to test for freshman year physics" or "I want to test for organic chemistry" and the proctors would either print out a test or bring it up on a computer screen. Then off you go taking the test while they watch. It should be possible to take hundreds of different tests this way. The tests could be administered at a high school, community college, university, or a rented conference room in a hotel.

By Randall Parker    2003 October 07 12:48 AM Entry Permalink | Comments (13)
2003 September 16 Tuesday
An International Education Spending Study Is Misleading

The US spends more per student for education.

Among more than 25 industrialized nations, no country spends more public and private money to educate each student than the United States, according to an annual review by the Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

But American 15-year-olds scored in the middle of the pack in math, reading and science in 2000, and the nation's high-school graduation rate was below the world average in 2001.

Why is this misleading? Think about it. Salaries make up most of the costs of operating schools. The physical structure and the books and other materials do not cost as much as teachers, janitorial staff, administrators, and all the others who work in schools and in assorted higher level offices that manage the schools. Well, countries that have higher per capita incomes are going to have generally higher salaries. Therefore, to get the same level of talent it will cost more in a country that is wealthier per person. So this study managed to show that the US has a higher per capita income than assorted other countries. The countries that came closest to the US in per student schools spending (e.g. Switzerland and Germany) also are closer to the US in per capita income. The countries that spend around $3000 per student (e.g. Mexico and Poland) have much lower living standards.

What would be more useful would be to rank countries by a ratio of spending per student divided by per capita income. Such an analysis might turn up some insights.

What else is dumb about these international student spending rankings? Well, among the countries listed in the analysis were Denmark with a population of 5.3 million and Slovakia with 5.4 million. Together those two countries have less than a third the number of people in California (about 33 million give or take a few millon illegal aliens who, btw, mostly have less than high school educations). Given that the US does not have a single educational system why compare all the US with such small countries? Why not break out the US into various parts and compare them to assorted similar sized places elsewhere? Why not include comparisons of just how much the various states differ in average per pupil spending and how much the various states differ in educational performance? Are there US states that surpass Denmark, Norway, and Austria in the performance of their students? I'm guessing probably this is so. It would be interesting to know that and to know the suspected reasons why before trying to draw conclusions from international comparisons of per student spending.

By Randall Parker    2003 September 16 07:31 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (9)
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