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Who could have guessed?

Breaking news in the New York Times:

Analysis Finds Higher Expulsion Rates for Black Students
By MOTOKO RICH AUG. 24, 2015

With the Obama administration focused on reducing the number of suspensions, expulsions and arrests in public schools, a new analysis of federal data identifies districts in 13 Southern states where black students are suspended or expelled at rates overwhelmingly higher than white children.

The analysis, which will be formally released Tuesday by the Graduate School of Education at the University of Pennsylvania, focused on states where more than half of all the suspensions and expulsions of black students nationwide occurred. While black students represented just under a quarter of public school students in these states, they made up nearly half of all suspensions and expulsions.

In some districts, the gaps were even more striking: in 132 Southern school districts, for example, black students were suspended at rates five times their representation in the student population, or higher.

Nationwide, according to the 2011 Obama Administration study “Homicide Trends in the United States, 1980-2008,” blacks were almost eight times more likely to be homicide offenders.

But, of course, noticing patterns and looking for simple explanations runs afoul of that dominant rule of 21st Century thought: Occam’s Racist.

In recent years, civil rights groups such as the Advancement Project and legal advocacy organizations including the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund Inc. and Texas Appleseed have focused on reducing arrests and other severe disciplinary actions in schools.

Last year, the Obama administration issued guidelines advising schools to create more positive climates, set clear expectations and consequences for students, and ensure equity in discipline.

Still, “I am actually shocked that there is not more outrage,” said Shaun R. Harper, associate professor of education at the University of Pennsylvania and the executive director of the Center for the Study of Race and Equity in Education who was a co-author of the analysis. …

Blacks were suspended or expelled at rates higher than their representation in the student body in every one of the 13 states analyzed.

And that consistency proves that this has to be caused solely by white racism! What else could it be?

“We want policy makers, parents and everybody to understand that any degree of disproportionality is in need of redress and response,” Mr. Harper said. The analysis did not look at suspension or expulsion rates for other racial minorities.

What with the high cost of computing these days, who can afford the computer CPU cycles needed to add rows to your Excel spreadsheet to show how often Asian students get suspended?

… In addition to missing out on in-school learning time, students who are expelled or suspended are more likely to have later contact with the juvenile justice system than similar students who are not removed from school, studies have shown.

Some school districts have already begun to shift their policies to focus more on using counseling and trying to prevent or redefine problem behavior in the first place.

Mr. Harper said that education schools should focus more on raising awareness about racial disparities and prepare teachers to cope with tense situations without harsh discipline.

“This is at least partly attributed to people having these racist assumptions about black kids,” Mr. Harper said. “We argue that too little happens in schools of education to raise consciousness about that.”

Let me just quote the last line of the article again:

“We argue that too little happens in schools of education to raise consciousness about that.”

The last 60 years didn’t happen.

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Screenshot 2015-07-01 16.54.40

Paul Krugman argues today that Puerto Rico is kind of like West Virginia, Mississippi, and Alabama:

Put it this way: if a region of the United States turns out to be a relatively bad location for production, we don’t expect the population to maintain itself by competing via ultra-low wages; we expect working-age residents to leave for more favorable places. That’s what you see in poor mainland states like West Virginia, which actually looks a fair bit like Puerto Rico in terms of low labor force participation, albeit not quite so much so. (Mississippi and Alabama also have low participation.) … There is much discussion of what’s wrong with Puerto Rico, but maybe we should, at least some of the time, just think of Puerto Rico as an ordinary region of the U.S. …

Okay, but there’s a huge difference in test scores.

The federal government has been administering a special Puerto Rico-customized version of its National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) exam in Spanish to Puerto Rican public school students, and the results have been jaw-droppingly bad.

For example, among Puerto Rican 8th graders tested in mathematics in 2013, 95% scored Below Basic, 5% scored Basic, and (to the limits of rounding) 0% scored Proficient, and 0% scored Advanced. These results were the same in 2011.

In contrast, among American public school students poor enough to be eligible for subsidized school lunches (“NSLP” in the graph above), only 39% scored Below Basic, 41% scored Basic, 17% scored Proficient, and 3% scored Advanced.

Puerto Rico’s test scores are just shamefully low, suggesting that Puerto Rican schools are completely dropping the ball. By way of contrast, in the U.S., among black 8th graders, 38% score Basic, 13% score Proficient, and 2% score Advanced. In the U.S. among Hispanic 8th graders, 41% reach Basic, 18% Proficient, and 3% Advanced.

In Krugman’s bete noire of West Virginia, 42% are Basic, 20% are Proficient, and 3% are Advanced. In Mississippi, 40% are Basic, 18% Proficient, and 3% are Advanced. In Alabama, 40% are Basic, 16% are Proficient, and 3% are Advanced. (Unmentioned by Krugman, the lowest scores among public school students are in liberal Washington D.C.: 35% Basic, 15% Proficient, and 4% Advanced.)

Let me repeat, in Puerto Rico in Spanish, 5% are Basic, and zero zip zilch are Proficient, much less Advanced.

Am I misinterpreting something? I thought I must be, but here’s a press release from the Feds confirming what I just said:

The 2013 Spanish-language mathematics assessment marks the first time that Puerto Rico has been able to use NAEP results to establish a valid comparison to the last assessment in 2011. Prior to 2011, the assessment was carefully redesigned to ensure an accurate assessment of students in Puerto Rico. Results from assessments in Puerto Rico in 2003, 2005 and 2007 cannot be compared, in part because of the larger-than-expected number of questions that students either didn’t answer or answered incorrectly, making it difficult to precisely measure student knowledge and skills. The National Center for Education Statistics, which conducts NAEP, administered the NAEP mathematics assessment in 2011. But those results have not been available until now, as it was necessary to replicate the assessment in 2013 to ensure that valid comparisons could be made.

“The ability to accurately measure student performance is essential for improving education,” said Terry Mazany, chairman of the National Assessment Governing Board, which oversees NAEP. “With the support and encouragement of education officials in Puerto Rico, this assessment achieves that goal. This is a great accomplishment and an important step forward for Puerto Rico’s schools and students.”

NAEP assessments report performance using average scores and percentages of students at or above three achievement levels: Basic, Proficient and Advanced. The 2013 assessment results showed that 11 percent of fourth-graders in Puerto Rico and 5 percent of eighth-graders in public schools performed at or above the Basic level; conversely, 89 percent of fourth-graders and 95 percent of eighth-graders scored below that level. The Basic level denotes partial mastery of the knowledge and skills needed for grade-appropriate work. One percent or fewer of students in either grade scored at or above the Proficient level, which denotes solid academic performance. Only a few students scored at the Advanced level.

The sample size for 8th graders was 5,200 students at 120 public schools in the Territory.

UPDATE: I’ve now discovered Puerto Rico’s scores on the 2012 international PISA test. Puerto Rico came in behind Jordan in math.

Results this abysmal can’t solely be an HBD problem (although it’s an interesting data point in any discussion of hybrid vigor); this has to also be due to a corrupt and incompetent education system in Puerto Rico.

New York Times’ comments aren’t generally very useful for finding out information, but Krugman’s piece did get this comment:

KO’R New York, NY 4 hours ago

My husband and I have had a house in PR for 24 years. For two of those years we taught English and ESL at Interamericana, the second largest PR university. Our neighbors have children in the public grade schools. In a nutshell: the educational system in PR is a joke!!! Bureaucratic and corrupt. Five examples: (1) In the elementary schools near us if a teacher is sick or absent for any reason, there is no class that day. (2) Trying to get a textbook changed at Interamericana requires about a year or more of bureaucratic shinnanigans (3) A colleague at Interamericana told us that he’d taught in Africa (don’t remember where) for a few years and PR was much worse in terms of bureaucracy and politics. ( (4) The teaching method in PR is for the teacher to stand in front of the class, read from the textbook verbatim, and have the students repeat what he or she read. And I’m not speaking just about English – this goes for all subjects. 5) Interamericana is supposed to be a bi-lingual iniversity. In practice, this means the textbooks are in English, the professor reads the Spanish translation aloud, and the usually minimal discussion is in Spanish. …

Public school spending in Puerto Rico is $7,429 per student versus $10,658 per student in the U.S. Puerto Rico spends more per student than Utah and Idaho and slightly less than Oklahoma.

Puerto Rico spends less than half as much as the U.S. average on Instruction: $3,082 in Puerto Rico vs. $6,520 in America, significantly less than any American state. But Puerto Rico spends more than the U.S. average on Total Support Services ($3,757 vs. $3,700). Puerto Rico is especially lavish when it comes to the shifty-sounding subcategories of General Administration ($699 in PR vs. $212 in America) and Other Support Services ($644 vs. $347). PR spends more per student on General Administration than any state in America, trailing only the notorious District of Columbia school system, and more even than DC and all 50 states on the nebulous Other Support Services.

Being a schoolteacher apparently doesn’t pay well in PR, but it looks like a job cooking the books somewhere in the K-12 bureaucracy could be lucrative.

The NAEP scores for Puerto Rico and the U.S. are for just public school students.

A higher percentage of young people in Puerto Rico attend private schools than in the U.S. The NAEP reported:

In Puerto Rico, about 23 percent of students in kindergarten through 12th grade attended private schools as of the 2011-2012 school year, compared with 10 percent in the United States. Puerto Rico results are not part of the results reported for the NAEP national sample.

So that accounts for part of the gap. But, still, public schools cover 77% of Puerto Ricans v. 90% of Americans, so the overall picture doesn’t change much: the vast majority of Puerto Rican 8th graders are Below Basic in math.

Another contributing factor is likely that quite a few Puerto Ricans summer in America and winter in Puerto Rico and yank their kids back and forth, which is disruptive to their education.

It’s clear that Puerto Ricans consider their own public schools to be terrible and that anybody who can afford private school should get out. The NAEP press release mentions that 100% of Puerto Rican public school students are eligible for subsidized school lunches versus about 50% in the U.S. Heck, Oscar-winner Benicio Del Toro’s lawyer father didn’t just send him to private school, they sent him to a boarding school in Pennsylvania.

Still, these Puerto Rican public school scores are so catastrophic that I also wouldn’t rule out active sabotage by teachers, such as giving students an anti-pep talk, for some local labor reason. For example, a PISA score from Austria was low a couple of tests ago because the teacher’s union told teachers to tell students not to bother working hard on the test. But the diminishment of the Austrian PISA score wasn’t anywhere near this bad. And Puerto Rico students got exactly the same scores in 2011 and 2013.

And here’s Jason Malloy’s meta-analysis of studies of Puerto Rican cognitive performance over the last 90 years.

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It has finally dawned on me what Ted Kennedy, George W. Bush, and company were probably thinking ten years ago when they came up with the ill-fated No Child Left Behind school reform act.

Until now, I’ve never been able to grasp what kind of picture they had in their heads when they decided that the way to close the black/Hispanic-white/Asian Achievement Gap was through more school testing.

Mandating frequent testing of K-12 students to solve the problem of cognitive inequality always struck me as much like trying to solve the problem of height inequality by requiring that everybody play a lot of basketball. That wouldn’t make short people taller—it would just make their shortness more obvious.

But now, I think, I’ve finally stumbled upon the wacky analogy unconsciously underlying the conventional wisdom about how more school testing would Leave No Child Behind. So I’m going to take some time to explain the mental framework behind so much of mainstream school reform thinking, as exemplified by Bush’s popular soundbite on “the soft bigotry of low expectations”.

The great thing about espousing the conventional wisdom, as Kennedy and Bush did, is that you don’t have to justify it very much. You just handwave problems away. And, because you aren’t questionedaggressively about what model you have in mind for how your law is supposed to work, it’s hard for skeptics to instill any doubts.

Recently, the Obama Administration has been waking up to the fact that the NCLB mandate requiring every public school student in America to score “proficient” (on a scale running from “below basic”to “basic” to “proficient” to “advanced”) on both reading and math tests by 2014 has left them with a big mess.

Barack Obama has been campaigning to change the law, because up to 80 percent of schools will otherwise be officially found “failing” thisyear and therefore must be punished. He complained last Monday:

“That’s an astonishing number. … We know that four out of five schools in this country aren’t failing. So what we’re doing to measure success and failure is out of line.”[Obama Urges Education Law Overhaul, By Helene Cooper, NYT, March 15, 2011]

Why the sudden surge in schools classified as “failing” under the NCLB?

Because, while the people who wrote the NCLB might have been naive about testing, they weren’t at all naive about the politics of blame. Accordingly, they required only modest improvement in test scores during the early years of NCLB. The goal of 100 percent proficiency was cleverly backloaded.

This has created a hockey stick-like profile of required performance that zooms up to 100% proficiency at the last moment—like the student who tells his parents at 8pm they must go to the store nowbecause, he just remembered, his big science fair project is due in themorning.

And, this way, most of the penalties wouldn’t kick in until the second decade of NCLB’s existence—when, by the way, Kennedy is dead and Bush retired.

Amazingly, however, it now turns out that passing a federal law requiring every student in the country to be “proficient” at reading and math really doesn’t mean they will be, in fact, “proficient”. (With students, failure is always an option.)

Why did the public policy mainstream place so much faith in the power of K-12 testing to eliminate achievement inequality? Why did they think that it was feasible for everybody (or practically everybody, for thatmatter) to become “proficient”? Why did they think it was crucial foreverybody to pass—but not very important for some people to do much better than passing?

I’ve been stumped by these questions for a decade.

At last, however, I’ve realized there is at least one common kind of test that does function rather like what the conventional wisdom expected from K-12 tests.

Almost everybody (outside a few cities) takes this particular kind of test. And the great majority of them eventually buckle down and pass it.

And passing is all that’s required. While high scorers on the SAT get into fancier colleges and are more likely to go on to postgraduate studies, high scorers on this other kind of test aren’t treated much differently from those who just scrape by.

So what is this widespread test that provides the mental template for NCLB and for so much else in the school reform brouhaha?

In the interests of dramatic suspense, I’m not going to reveal it yet. See if you can guess!

There’s a fundamental distinction about testing that is poorly understood. Tests can be thought of as measuring either:

  1. Relative performance versus other test-takers; or
  2. Absolute performance against some predetermined level of adequate learning.

Most school reform rhetoric assumes that the latter is how tests inevitably work. That’s why we hear constantly about how we must make the standards more rigorous to raise performance.

The idea of an absolute test is much easier to give a pep talk about:

“Every single one of you must learn how to use the quadratic formula! It will be hard, you will lose sleep studying it, but I know that, in the end, each and every one of you can and will do it!!”

The problem with our thinking about education in modern America is not that adults address children in this manner. That’s good. The problem is that adults are supposed to talk to other adults abouteducation as if they, too, were children.

A grown-up conversation about school reform ought to mention that the most obvious analogs for K-12 achievement tests are college admissions tests, such as the SAT and ACT. And those are relativist rather than absolutist tests. The SAT clearly doesn’t make peoplemore equal. The SAT is deliberately designed to leave many children “behind” and send a few far ahead.

The SAT doesn’t have a passing score to push everybody toward any “basic” or “proficient” minimum competence. Instead, the SAT elaborately distinguishes among students for the benefit of exclusivecolleges.

And it more or less works at what it says is does.

Indeed, a large fraction of the most successful and enduring tests—such as the SAT, ACT, SAT Subject Tests, GRE, LSAT, MCAT, DAT, and GMAT, military’s AFQT—are all built upon the assumption that humanperformance is distributed relativistically upon a bell curve. A median score and a standard deviation are determined. Thus, if the median is, say, 500 and the standard deviation is 100, somebody who scores a 600 ranks at the 84th percentile.

Among famous education exams, the Advanced Placement test started off absolute—scoring 3 on a 1 to 5 scale was “passing”. But colleges have been gradually relativising how they treat scores—e.g., a 5 on U.S. History might get you credit for two semesters of history, a 4 gets you one semester, and 3 or less nothing. It’s up to each college: MIT only blesses 5s and Caltech doesn’t give any credit. Moreover, less than ten percent of 17-year-olds take any single AP test in a year, so the AP isn’t much of a model for the mass ofstudents.

Universities use SAT-type test scores as each sees fit. Caltech, for instance, typically wants higher scoring students than the adjacent Pasadena City College, the junior college that my father attended in the 1930s.

Scoring upon a bell curve is both mathematically elegant and pragmatically useful, which is why it’s so widely used. Psychometricians feel much more confident about what they are measuring when told to devise tests that are explicitly relativist.

But there are some assumptions behind bell curve scoring whose implications are not at all popular. When Richard Herrnstein and Charles Murray spelled out these out in epic detail in 1994 in The Bell Curve, they didn’t make themselves the toast of the town. ["The Bell Curve" and its critics, By Charles Murray Commentary, May 1995]

The point of relativistic tests such as the SAT is not to make sure that every student knows what he or she needs to know: it’s to find out who is best. Nor these test designers claim that administering their testwill make the students smarter. In fact, the designers worry when scores go up that perhaps somebody is gaming the test.

Of course, relativist tests do top out at some score. But that’s merely for convenience and cost-effectiveness. It’s obvious that an 800 on the SAT doesn’t necessarily represent the ultimate in humanintellectual proficiency. What would John Updike have scored on the SAT Verbal if the test had been 48 hours long? 1050? What would John von Neumann have scored on the SAT Math? 1100?

In turn, it’s hard for those of us who grasp these basics of psychometrics to realize that people at the Kennedy/Bush level of intellectual sophistication and/or substance abuse don’t find the logic of bell curve tests intuitive at all.

Further, to reach Kennedy/Bush levels of success in politics, you can’t go around saying things like, “Well, obviously, your SAT score shows you aren’t smart enough to get into Caltech, so you’d better come up with a more practical plan for your life.”

In fact, today, you probably shouldn’t even think that.

Instead, in public life, you get rewarded for uplifting demagoguery. When Bush attributed poor performance in school to “the soft bigotry of low expectations”, he most likely quite sincerely meant it.

The conventional wisdom espouses the notion that there are academic accomplishments that every student should have because they are crucial for his future. For example, here’s the United Federation of Teachers explicating this popular assumption:

“Algebra 2 is often described as a ‘gateway course’ because it correlates so closely with college success. Students who complete Algebra 2 are twice as likely to earn a bachelor’s degree as students who do not, and passing Algebra 2 reduces the gap in college-completion rates between African American and Latino students and their white peers by half.”[Beyond high school graduation: What the data tell us, by Maisie McAdoo, UFT.ort, April 1, 2010]

In fact, in my experience, techniques that are reserved for Algebra 2 aren’t going to be used on the job by the great majority of workers, even among college graduates. Nevertheless, I don’t doubt that s uccess in Algebra 2 in high school does correlate with success in college—even in classes that don’t use Algebra 2 at all. That’s because Algebra 2 measures logic, powers of abstraction, and work ethic, all of which are good things to have at college.

But you aren’t supposed to think like that. You are supposed to think like this: Success in life correlates with graduating from college, which correlates with success in high school Algebra 2. Therefore, knowing Algebra 2 makes people a success in life—so the public schools must teach everybody Algebra 2!

Unfortunately, not everybody who takes Algebra 2 learnsAlgebra 2. Which is why the UFT is obliged to go on:

In 2008, the Alliance for Excellent Education reported, of 90,000 students who took an end-of-course Algebra 2 exam, the average score was 27 percent.”

The ensuing arguments in mainstream public policy discourse are over whom to blame: poverty, teachers, racism, government schools, parents, YouTube, or whatever.

So what common test is the closest model for school reform’s conventional wisdom? What test is the opposite of the SAT in that all the emphasis is put upon achieving a passing score?

That’s right, you guessed it: the driver’s license test!

When the conventionally-minded imagine that K-12 tests will bring about equality, they are assuming that these tests will work more or less like the test your teenager takes down at the DMV. Compare it to the SAT:

  • The driver’s test is supposed to be scored in an absolute fashion, not relative to what everybody else is doing.
  • Given enough tries, most people eventually pass.
  • The whole point of driver’s test takers is to reach the minimum level of competence to be allowed to drive. The passing score is intended to be good enough.
  • There are very few rewards for acing the driver’s test. If you get a perfect score on the driver’s test, you won’t get a letter from Team Penske imploring you to try out to be one of their racecar drivers. NASA doesn’t invite you to enroll in astronaut school.

Granted, for some people the driver’s license exam is a stepping stone to harder license tests, such as for driving an 18-wheeler. For most people, though, it’s the beginning and end of the line.

  • If the government makes the driver’s test harder, teenagers will study more for it.

My impression is that the driver’s test is more difficult than when I breezed through it in the lackadaisical 1970s. The average age when young adults get their first driver’s license has gone up in many states. But for teens, this is a high-stakes test. So many work hard at studying for the written part and practicing for the behind-the-wheel part.

Obviously, once you come out and articulate this mindset,then the driver’s license test sounds like a pretty dumbanalogy for school achievement tests. Driver’s licenses are absolute, school achievement tests relative—hence all the concern about The Gap.

It’s easy to develop a more sensible goal than the NCLB’s implicit intention of raising black and Hispanic average performance by about a standard deviation while simultaneously not letting whites and Asians improve (because that would merely perpetuate The Gap).

For example, we could try to raise everybody’s absolute performance by half of a standard deviation. That would leave blacks and Hispanics better equipped to perform in the economy and in life.

Of course, given the nature of the IQ Bell Curve, it would also leave whites and Asians would still better equipped—but is our objective improving everyone’s potential, or equality?

A good question. However, we needn’t face it—because any common sense goals in education policy are unlikely as long as the conventional wisdom is protected from serious questioning.

Amusing end note: Ironically, both Ted Kennedy and George W. Bush had a lot of time during their adult years to think about drivers’ licenses.

George W. Bush had his license suspended for either one month or two years (sources differ) after his drunk driving arrest in 1976.

And Teddy’s punishment for killing that poor girl at Chappaquiddick was having his driver’s license suspended too—for a whole year!

[Steve Sailer (email him) is movie critic for The American Conservative.

His website features his daily blog. His new book, AMERICA'S HALF-BLOOD PRINCE: BARACK OBAMA'S "STORY OF RACE AND INHERITANCE", is available here.]

(Republished from by permission of author or representative)
• Category: Ideology • Tags: Public Schools, VDare Archives 
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The new book by sometime contributor Robert Weissberg, Bad Students, Not Bad Schools, has become even timelier following the recent popping of the test score bubble in New York City public schools.

Weissberg, a professor of political science emeritus at the U. of Illinois, wittily surveys in his conversational prose style a half century of educational research. He debunks the fluff that comprises most of this fad-driven field, while highlighting the replicable social science whose lessons go ignored.

Weissberg’s conclusion: the quality of students—intelligence and motivation—is by far the most important factor in whether a school is “bad” or “good”.

This won’t come as any surprise to anyone with children. And everyone worries about this factor when house-hunting. As I wrote in on September 28, 2003:

“What do homebuyers mean when they say ‘bad schools?’ Occasionally, they do have highly specific criticisms: the principal might be disorganized, the teachers unmotivated, the textbooks incomprehensible. Overwhelmingly, though, Americans use the term ‘bad schools’ to mean—’bad students.’

“That’s the single most important key to the ‘two-income trap.’ Parents spend huge amounts of money to keep their children away from dim and dangerous fellow students.”

What makes Bad Students, Not Bad Schools particularly interesting is that in early 21st Century, New York City emerged as the glamour spot of school reform. The rich, the powerful, and the influential teamed up to fight the racial “gap” in school achievement allegedly caused by bad schools. And from 2004 onward, Weissberg was there, watching the idols of the hour up close.

Years before, as it happened, Weissberg himself had grown up in New York City. After a brief (but instructive) spell in 1953 at Booker T. Washington Junior High School on the border of the Upper West Side and Harlem—an expensive new school rapidly deteriorating under the assault from its less scholarly students—Weissberg’s mom yanked him out and headed for the Jersey suburbs.

That bad students can make a school bad is a lesson that tens of millions of Americans besides Weissberg have learned the hard way. Yet, when it comes to thinking about education, we’re not supposed to draw any insights from our own lives. In contrast, you can win fame and, if not fortune, at least a pleasant career by loudly proclaiming that bad schools make good students bad.

Weissberg documents the almost innumerable boondoggles tried out in the public schools in the name of closing the racial gap in achievement.

Over the last decade, New York mayor Michael Bloomberg epitomized the media/governmental/philanthropic complex that has come to dominate discussion of school reform. A Democrat turned Republican turned Independent, Bloomberg struck the press as the perfect non-ideological technocrat to bring “business-like” methods to the public schools to eliminate the gap. The financial news baron, the eighth richest man in America, mobilized his Wall Street connections to pour donations into fashionable educational gambits.

Bloomberg took control of the New York City schools away from the school board and put heavyweight lawyer Joel Klein in charge. He and Klein then proceeded to put on a dazzling PR show as they used the vast financial resources generated by the Wall Street Bubble to try out the state-of-the-art conventional wisdom.

Journalists gave him worshipful coverage. Maybe it helped that Bloomberg—whose firm rents old-fashioned computer monitors to Wall Streeters for about $18,000 per year—is one of the few press lords still hiring in the Internet Age.

For example, Bloomberg had term limits lifted so he could run for a third term in 2009. I assumed from reading the laudatory headlines that, after spending $102 million on his campaign, he was going to be re-elected by near-acclamation. But instead, Bloomberg sweated out a victory with only 50.6 percent of the vote. Reporters were astonished: everybody they knew voted for him.

But while the media were agog, New York City teachers were less impressed by the Bloomberg-Klein show. Weissberg writes of how local teachers, “the grunts”, were hammered from below by their students and from above by the politicians and press:

“Those I encountered might have become skeptical about imparting knowledge to their apathetic students, but I did not meet any who rejected that noble aim. … They were marking time, trying to navigate sorrowful situations while cynically watching the ‘Education Mayor’ and his hard-charging school chancellor build reputations by claiming to transform unruly dolts into dutiful scholars by just threatening teachers and ‘closing’ so-called ‘bad schools.’”

Weissberg found it disillusioning when he finally got to meet the famous reformers and donors that he had only previously read about in the glowing New York press. “Most were smart, a few brilliant at making money, all serious and yet their “positions” on educations were little more than heartfelt clichés”—union busting, multiculturalism, vouchers, merit pay, social work, or whatever.

Weissberg writes:

“All of their speechmaking was well-intentioned, nothing was absolutely wrongheaded, but many of these self-appointed amateur experts … had little curiosity about rival explanations, let alone tolerance for having pet nostrums challenged. Convictions resembled religious slogans to be endlessly repeated to fellow believers. Not a single pontificator put any blame on students themselves. Rousseau’s worldview had completely triumphed—’good’ students had been corrupted by ‘the system.’”

It was not just the Left that was talking through their hats. Weissberg watched the Manhattan Institute give a prize to Jeb Bush for demanding that every Floridian get a college degree (on the taxpayer’s tab). He adds:

“I also listened to a [Bush Administration] Secretary of Education explain that high dropout rates among African Americans could be reversed by adding more Advanced Placement courses in schools where most students struggled with the basics. … With friends like this … who needs enemies?”

And what Weissberg rightly labels the “mendacity” of education-talk is particularly flagrant in New York City. There these same elites compete furiously with each other to get their children into exclusive kindergartens through scoring high on IQ tests. Virtually every prestigious private school in Manhattan and the upscale parts of Brooklyn demands that preschooler applicants take the $510 Wechsler IQ test through the Early Childhood Admissions Assessment service of the Educational Records Bureau.

Thus every parent in the loftier reaches of the New York media knows, from personal experience, that the IQ of the students is central in determining what makes a “good school” different from a “bad school”. But how often do they clue the rest of us in on this central fact of New York life?

Bloomberg-Klein put on quite a show while it lasted. But the 2010 test scores revealed that that’s mostly what it was: a show. This summer, it was revealed that the much-trumpeted narrowing of the racial gap in NYC test scores was largely a statistical artifact, the inevitable result of tests becoming easier over the years 2006 through 2009.

From Triumph Fades on Racial Gap in City Schools by Sharon Otterman and Robert Gebeloff, New York Times, August 15, 2010:

“Two years ago, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and his schools chancellor, Joel I. Klein, testified before Congress about the city’s impressive progress in closing the gulf in performance between minority and white children. The gains were historic, all but unheard of in recent decades. ‘Over the past six years, we’ve done everything possible to narrow the achievement gap — and we have,’ Mr. Bloomberg testified. ‘In some cases, we’ve reduced it by half.’

“’We are closing the shameful achievement gap faster than ever,’ the mayor said again in 2009, as city reading scores — now acknowledged as the height of a test score bubble — showed nearly 70 percent of children had met state standards.

“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.”

What’s the story behind the popping of the New York test score bubble? Allow me to digress from Bad Students, Not Bad Schools to update you on this latest (yet increasingly time-honored) test score scam.

The main explanation is that the state’s tests got so easy to pass from 2006 to 2009 that whites started running out of headroom. In 2006, 77 percent of white students passed the math test. By 2009, that percentage had been inflated, by the usual hook and crook methods, to 92 percent of whites. Making tests super-easy automatically narrows the racial gap as measured by the simpleminded method of subtracting the percent of blacks passing from the percent of whites passing. (Standards were finally raised this year by the New York State Board Of Regents, which is officially above politics and actually not under Bloomberg’s control. [Standards Raised, More Students Fail Tests, By Jennifer Medina, Published: July 28, 2010])

In 2006, 77.2 percent of whites passed (blue line in the graph above) compared to 46.5 percent of blacks (black line), so the Gap (red line) was announced as 30.7 percentage points (77.2 – 46.5 = 30.7). By 2009, 92 percent of whites passed versus 75 percent of blacks, so the gap was proclaimed to have shrunk from 31 points to 17 in just four years.

Yet, is subtracting the black passing percentage from the white passing percentage the best way to track the racial gap? Would Bloomberg and Klein get a passing grade on a math test?

If you try out different ways of quantifying the Gap using percentages, you’ll get oddly different results. If you look at failing rates rather than passing rates, and use division rather than subtraction, you’ll find the “racial ratio” (black failing rate / white failing rate) moves in the opposite direction as the percentage of whites failing falls toward zero. In 2006, 23 percent of white students in NYC flunked the math test compared to 53 percent of black students, for a black / white ratio of 2.4. By 2009, only eight percent of whites and 25 percent of blacks flunked, giving a black / white ratio of 3.2.

Indeed, as the percentage of whites failing approaches zero, the ratio of black to white failure rates approaches infinity.

This paradox should come as a warning to us that the apparent size of racial gaps can be manipulated by clever salesmen.

In truth, using differences in percentages passing is statistical chicanery. Statisticians have known for generations that the proper way to measure differences like this is with standard deviations, not percentages.

As the pseudonymous statistician La Griffe du Lion pointed out in 2001 in the above graph, the white passing percentage minus black passing percentage racial gap must be zero when either nobody passes the test or when everybody passes the test. Assuming a constant one standard deviation gap (what La Griffe calls the Fundamental Constant of Sociology), the percentage point gap is largest (38 points) when 69 percent of whites pass.

So, if you start with a test on which about 69% of whites pass, you can artificially narrow the racial gap by either making the test easier or harder. It doesn’t matter!

If Mayor Bloomberg, who has made himself $17,500,000,000 delivering statistics to traders, doesn’t know about standard deviations, well, Bloomberg L.P. employs hundreds of people who could have explained it to him.

If we make the simplifying assumption that the scores of both whites and blacks follow the normal probability distribution, we can easily plot the New York City math test passing rates in terms of standard deviations, giving us a more accurate picture. While the Bloomberg-Klein percentage method showed the racial gap narrowing almost in half from 2006 to 2009, the superior standard deviation difference (red line) shows only a slight decline through 2009. The white-black gap was 0.83 standard deviations in 2006, before falling to 0.74 in 2009, then bouncing back to 0.90 in 2010.

More likely, Mayor Bloomberg, a master salesman, knew that talking about gaps in percentage terms was misleading, which is why he did it.

The Fire Department of New York tried the same tactic to avoid a disparate impact suit over the notoriously innumerate Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s rule that blacks must score at least four fifths as well as whites in percentage terms. They pushed the white passing rate on the fireman’s hiring test to 97 percent so that the black rate hit 85 percent.

Weissberg, who says that in researching this book, he “acquired a new-found appreciation for America’s teachers… the cannon fodder,” as he calls them:

“I began to fantasize that one day … Joel Klein (and dozens like him) would spend a year trying to teach unruly, intellectually uninspired students who absolutely hated being in the classroom. And then have his before/after test scores put on the front page of the New York Times.”

The racial gaps are usually portrayed in terms of black children, whom white Americans find highly sympathetic. But most of the mounting frenzy in elite circles over the gaps is currently driven by the vast numbers of Hispanics our ruling class has let into the country. Weissberg subversively notes:

“Imagine that current students from Mexico,Guatemala, Honduras, and other Third World nations suddenly all voluntarily returned home. Professional educators would be congratulating themselves on the dramatic turnaround, and nearly all of today’s reform agenda would quickly vanish. Yet, this possibility can only be uttered in the most hushed conversations since it hints that human beings are not interchangeable in terms of cognitive ability. Better to pour billions into futile reforms than to broach taboo topics.”

As I’ve suggested, trying to raise black and Hispanic test scores by roughly a standard deviation (the difference between, say, the 16th and the 50th percentiles) while keeping whites and Asians from improving is destructive. Yet that is what “closing the gap” requires. As Weissberg sums up:

“This quixotic quest subverts all education and if educational progress is the aim, we should end the bridging-the-gap enterprise.”

My suggested goal: try to raise everybody’s achievement by a half of a standard deviation. Or as Weissberg puts it in Bad Students, Not Bad Schools:

The aim should be the best possible education for every student regardless …notleveling attainment across every imaginable demographic category.”

[Steve Sailer (email him) is movie critic for The American Conservative. His website features his daily blog. His new book, AMERICA'S HALF-BLOOD PRINCE: BARACK OBAMA'S “STORY OF RACE AND INHERITANCE”, is available here.]

(Republished from by permission of author or representative)
• Category: Ideology • Tags: Public Schools, VDare Archives 
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It’s widely argued that the reason that blacks tend to perform poorly in schools and jobs is their fear of being accused by other blacks of “acting white.” Thus in the current issue of The New Republic, linguist John McWhorter, the celebrated black intellectual associated with New York’s Manhattan Institute, lauds the new book Acting White: The Ironic Legacy of Desegregation by Stuart Buck (who is white—seepicture.) McWhorter argues, “Much of the reason for the gap between the grades and test scores of black students and white students was that black teens often equated doing well in school with ‘acting white.’”[Guilt Trip, June 24, 2010]

In an interview with Buck about his book, Rod Dreher defines “acting white” as when “academicallyaccomplished black students are often accused of being traitors to their race (‘acting white’) because of their good grades and study habits.”

Buck’s main argument: blame black underperformance on theparadoxical consequences of integration. He explains:

“An integrated school can often appear to black students to be controlled by whites, or to be run in a way that benefits white students. Thus, the black student who tries to curry favor from the white authorities is seen as saying, ‘I’m better than you.’”

Buck declares:

“… I think there’s a strong case that ‘acting white’ began with desegregation. First, as far as I could tell, black people who went to school before desegregation have testified unanimously (whether in autobiographies, newspaper articles, or personal interviews) that ‘acting white’ was a completely foreign concept in their school days. After all, why would a child whose most-admired peers and mentors within the school were black think of any type of school behavior as ‘acting white’?”

In Race and Education, 1954-2007 U. of Delaware historian Raymond Wolters also pointed out the disruptions imposed upon black schools by desegregation in the wake of Brown v. Board of Education. But Wolters made clear, however, that one major cause of the decline of black communities was black flight—middle class African-Americans fleeing contact with poor blacks.

Are blacks held back by fear of “acting white”?

No doubt this is often true. Yet the benefits that whites bestow upon blacks for acting reassuringly white (for example, the White House itself) are so lavish that it’s hardly certain what the net effect is. As Buck admits, when unsuccessful blacks denounce successful blacks for “acting white,” there’s an obvious whiff of sour grapes about theproceedings:

“Indeed, in one of the earliest scholarly accounts of ‘acting white,’ one of the poorer black students was remarkably frank about how he viewed the more accomplished black students in his class: ‘There’re just a few of these Uncle Toms at school, these are the goody-goody guys. Maybe I say this, though, because they’re doing a little bit better than I am. And maybe I’m a little bit ashamed of myself because I’m not doing as good as they are in school, and I’m jealous. Maybe that’s why I think of them as Uncle Toms.’”

One peculiarity of this popular “acting white” theory: there is significantly stronger evidence that a lack of intellectual ambition holds back otherwise capableHispanics (especially Mexican-Americans) than that itdebilitates African-Americans. But that never seems to come up in public discussion—probably because, as I’ve argued before, Anglos just find blacks much more interesting than Latinos.

Google finds 14 times as many pages featuring the phrases “African American” and “acting white” as it does “Mexican American” and “acting white.” An expensive Harvard study by celebrity black economist Roland Fryer intended to confirm the “acting white”hypothesis by showing that black students lost friends as they earned higher grades actually wound up demonstrating that this problem is much worse among Latinos.

Contrary to the claims of John McWhorter, African-American culture isn’t particularly anti-intellectual or anti-education … at least relative to the average black IQ of 85, some 15 points below the white average.[ Note: Via's search inside feature, we find that no mention of this IQ gap—indeed, the letters IQ appear only twice in the book. Test gap? Check. Stereotype Threat? Check. Parenting? Check. IQ? No.] For example, think of how many black intellectuals you can name? Probably quite a few. (You can start with McWhorter.)

In contrast, how many Mexican-American intellectuals can you recall? (Sure, there are Mexican intellectuals—but they don’t move to America.)

Even if you cast your mind back a century, in 1910 therewere two nationally prominent African-Americanintellectuals: W.E.B. Du Bois and Booker T. Washington.

Each advocated impressive albeit contrasting ideologies. Du Boisendorsed legal equality for the black elite—the “Talented Tenth”, as he called them. In contrast, Washington contended that building human capital among the black masses was key to their moving up fromsharecroppers to factory workers.

The federal government could help blacks, Washington noted, bylimiting immigration. (See Washington’s once-famous 1895 speech to white industrialists, Cast Down Your Bucket Where You Are,”asking them to hire black Americans rather than immigrants for their factories.)

An example of black ambition relative to Mexicans: taking the Law School Admissions Test might seem like a pretty white thing to do. Yet blacks do it vastly more than Mexican-Americans: in 2006, 11,288 blacks took the LSAT compared to only 1,789 Mexican-Americans. On a per capita basis, young blacks were four times as likely to take the LSAT as young Mexican-Americans.

The problem is that so many blacks took the LSAT that their average score fell at only the 12th percentile of the white distribution. In contrast, so few Mexican-Americansattempted the LSAT that those who did would have averaged at the moderately mediocre 29th percentile among whites.

White Americans constantly fret over whether black self-esteem isendangered by the mere mention of IQ gaps, but worry far less about the danger of overestimating how smart they are. Yet, that can lead even genuinely if modestly talented individuals into a disastrous career cul-de-sacs. For example, 53 percent of blacks who begin law school never pass the bar exam, compared to only 24 percent of whites. Incontrast, Hispanics are less likely to waste time pursuing degrees they aren’t cut out for.

In fact, the anti-educational bias in Hispanic culturecertainly does keep down a fair number of Hispanics whoreally do have the brains to make use of education.

For example, Latinos who grow up in the U.S. have at least as bad a high school dropout rate as blacks, according to Nobel Laureate James Heckman’s 2007 study. Yet their IQ scores average about five pointshigher. P.L. Roth’s 2001 meta-analysis of 39 studies covering a total 5,696,519 individuals in America found that the white-Hispanic gapappears to be only about 65% as large as the notoriouslyunmentionable white-black gap.

In other words, while the Hispanic IQ glass is almost two-thirds empty, it’s also over one-third full. So, why isn’t the Latino high school graduation rate better?

The likelihood that Latinos have the brainpower to accomplish more than they are currently is actually pretty good news, because they already outnumber blacks in the U.S. If this country is going to stay solvent over the next generation, especially if immigration policy remains jammed on full throttle, Latinos are going to have to earn a lot more income, so they can pay a lot more taxes.

But will they? Unfortunately, nobody knows how to motivate Latinos to stick with education.

Mexican-Americans tend to see pursuing education as being disloyal to la familia and La Raza. Mexican ethnic pride correlates with Mexican lack of education. PBS commentator Richard Rodriguez, who has been perhaps the most distinguished Mexican-American public intellectual ever since he published his gracefully written memoir Hunger of Memory way back in 1981 (i.e., there’s not much competition), argues:

“Americans like to talk about the importance of family values. But America isn’t a country of family values; Mexico is a country of family values. This [America ] is a country of people who leave home.”

My theory: I suspect that class matters. Before McWhorter’s turning point year of 1966, African-Americans had been in America long enough for a class structure to emerge, with people of mixed-race descent largely on top. And the “one drop” rule for defining who was black typically kept them black.

In contrast, the Mexican-American population is constantlybeing replenished by immigrants from the lower reaches of the Mexican class pyramid.

Moreover, the racial barriers in America have always been low enough that the more successful and ambitious Mexican-Americans tend to marry Anglos. For example, a recurrent theme in Joseph Wambaugh’s long string of novels about the Los Angeles Police Department, from 1971′s The New Centurions through 2009′s Hollywood Moon,

is the ambiguously Latino character, somebody whose ethnicity couldarguably be either Mexican or Anglo.

Thus, particularly in California, there hasn’t been much ofa Spanish-speaking upper class to refine manners since the 1840s. And those role models who have existed have been unfortunately influenced by the fatalism and indolence of Spain.

McWhorter writes:

“I even sense from the testimonials I have received that if one particular year could be pegged as the time in which ‘You think you’re white making those grades?’ ‘tipped’ as a community commonplace, it would be 1966—perhaps because this was the year that ‘black power’ ideology went mainstream inthe black community.”

The birth of the Black Pride movement around 1966 meant that theAfrican-American Talented Tenth switched from emphasizing their cultural whiteness to emphasizing their cultural blackness: there was now good money to be made in acting black.

But this meant that the manners of the black masses were no longer upbraided by starchy black upper class role models, like Carlton Banks on Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.

For example, one of the main characters in Tom Wolfe’s novel A Man in Full,is mild-mannered Roger White II, a black lawyer and Stravinsky devotee. He is known to his Morehouse college fraternity brothers, including the mayor of Atlanta, as Roger Too White. By the end of the book, even Roger Too White has figured out that the real money and power in modern Atlanta is in representin’.

White people will pay well to employ blacks who can act white—but as long as whites and blacks insist on assurances that the blacks are “authentic”, racial tensions will continue.

And the black-white educational performance gap is likely to continue even longer.

[Steve Sailer (email him) is movie critic for The American Conservative.

His website features his daily blog. His new book, AMERICA'S HALF-BLOOD PRINCE: BARACK OBAMA'S "STORY OF RACE AND INHERITANCE", is available here.]

(Republished from by permission of author or representative)
• Category: Ideology • Tags: Public Schools, VDare Archives 
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Over the last decade, a bipartisan consensus has been emerging among politicians, the prestige press, and leading philanthropists: the racial gap in achievement is the fault of—schoolteachers!

If only schoolteachers were more multiculturally sensitive, or if only they held students to more rigorous standards, or if only they could be fired in large numbers and replaced by young investment banker-types who work 19 hours per day and live on Red Bull and idealism, or if only … well, the cure-all proposals go on and on.

As a certain anonymous teacher wrote in an important essay on Achievement Gap Politics on the National Association of Scholars blog on May 9th:

“Educational policy is consumed by the achievement gap … It’s race that generates the most intensity. I don’t just mean that this is the number one priority. It’s the only priority. The achievement gap pervades every corner of American educational policy discussion. Nothing else matters. No Child Left Behind was entirely about the achievement gap and measuring schools to see if they’d closed it. Obama’s Race to the Top is just another take on the achievement gap—again, focusing on testing and this time holding teachers responsible if they can’t get low-performing students to improve.”

Unfortunately, nobody has ever been able to point to a single one of the 16,025 school districts in the country where reformers have been able to make the Gap go away.

My question: How much of the current elite frenzy over the supposed failures of teachers stems from unspoken guilt over the educational results of 40 years of open door immigration policy?

Maybe our ruling class is saying to itself something like this:

“OK—we’ve now got 48 million Hispanics. And, on average, they aren’t climbing the ladder like the Ellis Island immigrants did. We said they would, but they’re mostly just kind of sitting there, generation after generation, at the prole level. They aren’t earning enough money to pay enough taxes.

“And look what we’ve done to California. That used to be America’s shining future. Back in 1970, California ranked 7th out of all the states in highest percentage of high school graduates in the workforce. Now, California ranks 50th.

“And Texas is 49th, so it’s not as if it matters whether it’s a Blue State like California or a Red State like Texas. From 2000 to 2010 in Texas, the number of Anglo public school students fell from 1.7 million to 1.6 million, while the number of Hispanic students rose from 1.6 million to 2.4 million.

“Together, the two biggest states account for 62 million people.

“Last year, only 51% of the babies born in the country were white, and that percentage is falling about one point per year.

“Uh oh! We’ve really fouled up the whole country.

“Quick—find somebody else to blame! Like … uh … TEACHERS! Yeah, Latino lack of achievement is the fault of the TEACHERS! That will distract the voters for a while!”

Of course, it is quite implausible that teachers are suddenly doing such a worse job. There are so hugely many K-12 teachers in the U.S.—3.5 million—that, on the whole, they are, by necessity, pretty average.

On the other hand, the education industry sure isn’t going to solve its problems itself.

That NAS clandestine analyst I quoted above, a recent graduate of a famous Education School, points to three explanations for the achievement gap and their accompanying policy advice:

  • The progressive: The problem is racism, and the solution is integration (no tracking, no disparate impact) and ethnic cheerleading by teachers.
  • The conservative: The problem is low standards on the part of teachers, and the solution is that everybody (teachers, students, parents) must work harder.
  • “The Voldemort View: The View That Must Not Be Named”—a reference to the villain in Harry Potter—the problem is cognitive differences.

As I suggested in my recent review of Diane Ravitch’s latest book, rather than trying to get blacks and Hispanics to improve by a full standard deviation while not allowing whites and Asians to improve at all, we should try to get everybody to improve by half a standard deviation. That’s a lot more likely to work.

Needless to say, the Voldemort View can get you Watsoned in the mainstream. But within the hermetically sealed Politically Correct world of Ed Schools, even the conservative opinion is ruinous. The anonymous author explains why these Ed School ideological purity tests are so deleterious:

“Ed schools don’t get much respect within the university, and even less in the political arena. But they are the gatekeepers of elite credentials within the education community. These credentials don’t matter so much for teaching jobs per se, but do matter for educational policy jobs and doctoral program applications that come after teachers ‘do their two’ in public schools and move on to jobs in which they can influence policy.”

Hence, even when a smart Ed Industry consultant notices a new problem staring her in her face, she’s unable to think pragmatically about causes or solutions.

Case in point: the recent report from the progressive think tank Californians Together by Laurie Olsen: Reparable Harm: Fulfilling the unkept promise of educational opportunity for Long Term English Learners [PDF].

To her credit, Dr. Olsen,[Email her] who holds a Ph.D. in Social and Cultural Studies in Education from U.C. Berkeley, has been one of the first to call public attention to what has emerged as a major educational problem in the 21st Century America: kids from Spanish-speaking households who learn to speak English okay in school—but who don’t learn to read or write well in any language.

Since Ron Unz’s Proposition 227 was passed overwhelmingly by California voters in 1998, virtually eliminating the “bilingual education” a.k.a. Spanish-language programs that kept students from Latino homes captive in Spanish-speaking ghettoes within schools, the struggle between English and Spanish for the hearts and minds of the latest generation of Latinos born in the U.S. is largely being won by English.

Unz’s victory took the wind out of the sails of bilingual education. Thus, the 2001 No Child Left Behind act didn’t give students being taught in Spanish an exemption from being tested in English.

Students in California are now mostly taught in English, and they largely talk to each other at school in English. When Californians voted to stop subsidizing Spanish, Hispanic kids started to get the message that English is the future.

Proposition 227 was a rare assertion of Anglo cultural dominance. And it turned out that the Hispanic masses, in contrast to their self-appointed leaders, reacted constructively to Anglo assertiveness.

You can see this important shift in the lack of demand for blockbuster movies dubbed into Spanish. Hispanics make up the most enthusiastic audience for Hollywood schlock. Yet, there is remarkably little interest among Hispanic teens in movies dubbed into Spanish. While Spanish-language television is huge in the home, when Hispanic kids go out, they want to be seen by other teens going to English-language movies.

For example, at the Plant 16 movie multiplex in Van Nuys, where, I’d guesstimate, about 80-90 percent of weekend moviegoers are Latino, there are currently 15 movies playing in English only. There is one showing of The Karate Kid in English with Spanish subtitles, and there is nothing dubbed into Spanish. Hispanic youths want to hear Jackie Chan speak English!

Spanish is becoming uncool. That’s very good news, because nothing can divide a country like language. Witness today’s election in Belgium over whether Belgium should break up into separate Flemish and French-speaking countries.

It’s also good for the Hispanic students economically. People who speak only Spanish have limited career paths.

But that doesn’t mean that everybody in Van Nuys who lined up to see The A-Team in English this weekend is going to grow up to be a periodontist or a patent attorney and pay in enormous sums in taxes. Because, as Olsen explain, there’s still a problem with these kids.

California schools now call students from Spanish-speaking homes “English Learners” or “ELs”. (Other acronyms in this jargon-crazed field include “ESL” for “English as a Second Language”, “LEP” for “Limited English Proficiency”, and “ELL” for “English Language Learners”.).)

“English Learner” is a cheerful, optimistic term that makes it sound like these students should be done learning English real soon now. Unfortunately, however, it turns out that a lot of English Learners only learn as much English as they want to—for example, enough to watch the latest Transformers sequel at The Plant—but not enough for academic success in America.

In California, 18 percent of high school students are designated English Learners (and many more have dropped out). Of those, Olsen’s survey of California school districts finds that 59 percent have been English Learners for more than six years. She notes:

“Yet, the vast majority of English Learners currently in middle schools and high schools have been enrolled in United States schools since kindergarten — and most were born in the United States.”

Olsen calls them Long Term English Learners. She writes:

“Many Long Term English Learners do not know they are English Learners. Particularly those who had been placed into mainstream settings for years and are socially comfortable in English. They are surprised when a counselor or teacher tells them they are an English Learner.”

Other teachers have more cynical terms. But whatever these kids are called, they’re doing badly. Olsen reports:

“The achievement gap between English Learners and proficient English speakers actually widened in the past decade. Increasingly, educators in secondary schools seeking to understand this widening gap have noticed that there are English Learners in their classes who, despite having initially entered United States schools in the primary grades, are now stalled in their progress towards English and struggling academically. Not yet recognized in policy or formal literature of the field, various labels are applied: ‘ESL Lifers,’ ‘The 1.5 generation,’ ‘Forever LEP,’ and ‘The 6 Plusers’.”

Characteristics of English Learner Lifers, according to Olsen: “high functioning social language, very weak academic language, and significant deficits in reading and writing skills.”

In other words, to paraphrase the title of Dennis Rodman’s autobiography, these students are as bad as they wanna be at English. They can understand Will Smith fine, they just can’t pass written tests of their English skills.

Tellingly, they generally don’t pass written tests of other skills, such as math, either. Olsen writes:

“This group is struggling academically, failing to progress in English proficiency, and facing disproportionately high drop out rates. …Long Term English Learners have significant gaps in academic background knowledge. … By itself, the number of years it takes an English Learners to become English proficient and satisfy reclassification requirements is not sufficient to define Long Term English Learners. Academic struggles and lack of progress (‘being stuck’) towards English proficiency is also key to the definition.”

On the other hand, the Lifers have kept hope alive! Olsen writes:

“The majority of Long Term English Learners wants to go to college, and are unaware that their academic skills, record and courses are not preparing them to reach that goal. Neither students, their parents nor their community realizes that they are in academic jeopardy.”

So we’re not talking about Chinese kids who are struggling at mastering a radically different language while still acing their math tests.

And we’re not talking about all Latino students. Some quickly become English proficient and do well in math.

Instead, we’re mostly talking about Latino kids who speak English with whatever accent they think is cool, who can mostly follow Robert Downey Jr. speaking at 300 words per minute in Iron Man 2—but who can’t pass written tests in English, Spanish, or in math.

The Lifers are the leftovers who have been given opportunities repeatedly, but who have failed to take advantage of them.

What’s the simplest explanation for the mystery of English Learner Forevers? Olsen reviews various complicated flaws in how the schools have failed to meet their needs. But there is a much more obvious reason: they aren’t very bright and/or they aren’t very hard-working.

Needless to say, that thought can’t cross poor Dr. Olsen’s mind. So her recommendations are both expensive to the taxpayers and inane. For example:

VI. Schoolwide focus on study skills, metacognition, and learning strategies”

Metacognition is one of those great words you learn at Ed School that you can intimidate people who didn’t go to Ed School. It means— to the extent it means anything —”knowing about knowing”.

Metacognition is not useful to English Learner Lifers. What would be useful to them is vocational training. Teach them a trade and then let them graduate with a newly invented “associates’ high school diploma” after tenth grade.

In other words, spend fewer tax dollars on them and help them earn more and sooner, so they can come closer to paying back what American taxpayers have been compelled to invest in them.

And there’s another unthinkable thought. What would really be useful to the country: stop letting the parents of so many future Limited English Proficient Forevers immigrate, legally or illegally, in the first place.

[Steve iler (email him) is movie critic for The American Conservative. His website features his daily blog. His new book, AMERICA'S HALF-BLOOD PRINCE: BARACK OBAMA'S “STORY OF RACE AND INHERITANCE”, is available here.]

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The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education, the new book by veteran education historian Diane Ravitch, has received a lot of publicity for revealing her newfound doubts aboutthe current conventional wisdom on K-12 education reform. Her summary:

[The Bush Administration's No Child Left Behind Act] introduced a new definition of school reform that was applauded by Democrats andRepublicans alike. In this new era, school reform was characterized as accountability, high-stakes testing, data-driven decision making, choice, charter schools, privatization, deregulation, merit pay, and competitionamong schools.”

Ravitch notes:

“It was ironic that a conservative Republican president was responsible for the largestexpansion of federal control in the history of American education. It was likewise ironic that Democrats embraced market reforms and other initiatives that traditionally had been favored by Republicans.”

But, as demonstrated by our catastrophic experience with the bipartisan assault on traditional lending standards in the name of equalizing minority homeownership rates, whenever the Republicans and Democrats agree on something, you’d better watch out.

The Bush-Kennedy education consensus that pushed through NCLB launched a decade of sound and fury in public education, signifying, well, not much in terms of its oft-proclaimed goal: narrowing the racialgaps in school achievement. And the Obama Administration has largely gone along.

I will point out here, because no-one else (not even Ravitch) will do so, that this fundamental goal of No Child Left Behind—closing the gapbetween Non-Asian Minorities [NAMs] and whites/Asians—iswrongheaded.

Thus the current ambition of everybody who is anybody is to take the (roughly) half of the kindergarten population that is minority and raise their performance by (roughly) one standard deviation, while, hopefully, doing nothing to improve the performance of whites and Asians (because if you also improve performance by whites and Asians, then you can’t Close The Gap).

That’s a terrible objective. And it just can’t be achieved in any practical way because the racial achievement gap is based on theracial gap in average IQ. I offer my alternative objective at the end of this article.

Some cure-alls for ethnic disparities, such as “small learning communities,” have fallen out of fashion. But they are always replaced by new crazes, such as tracking down the best teachers and sending them to the slums to somehow work their magic.

The plain fact is, however, that nobody has a clue how to eradicate the racial gap—short of hitting the white and Asian kids on the head with a ball peen hammer. Thus Ravitch points out that

“In 2008, the federal government’s education research division issued a report with four recommendations for ‘turning aroundchronically low-performing schools,’ but the report acknowledged that every one of its recommendations had ‘low’ evidence to support it.’”

That Department of Education document, Turning Around Chronically Low-Performing Schools, admits:

“Unfortunately, the research base on effective strategies for quickly turning around low-performing schools is sparse. The panel did not find any empirical studies that reached the rigor necessary to determine that specific turnaround practices produce significantly better academic outcomes.”

Ravitch notes:

“It seems that the only guaranteed strategy is to change the student population, replacing low-performing students with higher-performing students. … Rather than “leaving no child behind,” this strategy plays a shell game with low-performing students, moving them out and dispersing them, pretending they don’t exist.”

Nonetheless, billionaires such as Bill Gates and Eli Broad have donated enormous sums toward implementing the last decade’s orthodoxy in its various manifestations. As Ravitch acidly observes, this “billionaire boys’ club” of philanthropists ignored the existing infrastructure of alternatives to urban public schools in favor of arrogantly thinking they should reinvent schools from the ground up.

Citing James S. Coleman’s research, Ravitch explains that

Catholic schools have a wonderful record of educating poor and minority children in the cities. It is a shame that the big foundations have not seen fit to keep Catholic schools alive. Instead, they prefer to create a marketplace of options, even as themarketplace helps to kill off highly successful Catholic schools.”

For example, the Gates Foundation, excited over the chic leftist idea promoted by Bill Ayers and Barack Obama in Chicago in the 1990s that the problem with big city public high schools is that they are too big, spent almost $2 billion toward creating 1,500 new small high schools and small learning communities within public high schools. Gates orated in 2005: “If we keep the [high school] system as it is, millions of children will never get a chance to fulfill their promise because of their zip code, their skin color, or the income of their parents.”

Thus Gates gave a million dollars to Bill Ayers’s brother Rick (who also spent years on the lam) so he could set up “small schools” within Berkeley High School to, in part, take students to Cuba to learn about “social justice.”

In 2009, Gates admitted that he’d largely wasted his donations on this small schools boondoggle.

Why didn’t the press and the think tanks point out clearly to Gates that he was being ripped off by charlatans?

Because, as Ravitch points out, the Gates Foundation had bought off most of the self-proclaimed experts—handing out $57 million to “advocacy groups” in 2005 alone:

“Never before was there a foundation that gave grants to almost every major think tank and advocacy group in the field of education,leaving almost no one willing to criticize its vast power and unchecked influence.”

(“Almost no one” is right. Personally, I’ve been criticizing the damage being done to children by the Gates Foundation for years. But, then, I’m not important enough to be bribed by Bill Gates, so why listen to me?)

Gates has now given up on “small learning communities” as so 2000s. Now he has jumped aboard the educational fad of the 2010s: Blame Teachers!

Gates writes:

“It is amazing how big a difference a great teacher makes versus an ineffective one. Research shows that there is only half as much variation in student achievement between schools as there is among classrooms in the same school. If you want your child to get the best education possible, it is actually more important to get him assigned to a great teacher than to a great school.”

This unfalsifiable line of reasoning—“If students succeeded, it was the teacher who did it. If students got low scores, it was the teacher’s fault”—has swept wonkdom.

According to Ravitch:

“So, depending on which economist or statistician one preferred, the achievement gap between races, ethnic groups, and incomegroups could be closed in three years (Sanders), four years (Gordon, Kane, and Staiger), or five years (Hanushek and Rivkin). “

Ravitch marvels:

“Over a short period of time, this assertion became an urban myth among journalists and policy wonks in Washington, something thatthat ‘everyone knew.’ This particular urban myth fed a fantasy that schools serving poor children might be able to construct a teaching corps made up exclusively of superstarteachers, the ones who produced large gains year after year.”

The hot new idea embraced by the Obama Administration and the Gates Foundation is to develop statistical techniques to find effective teachers, so that they can be taken out of white schools and sent to black and Hispanic schools.

It’s crucial to keep in mind that these influential papers are not studiesof actual success stories of school districts that closed the racial gaps. Nobody has done that. Instead, they are merely mathematical projections of what might happen if all else remained equal. Theauthors are just assuming that the effect seen in one year of a good teacher over a bad teacher can be multiplied by any number of years.

For example, Gordon, Kaine, and Staiger write:

“Therefore, if the effects were to accumulate, having a top-quartile teacher rather than a bottom-quartile teacher four years in a rowwould be enough to close the black-white test score gap.”

But that turns out to be a big “If.” Ravitch notes:

“The fact was that the theory had never been demonstrated anywhere. No school or school district or state anywhere in the nation had ever proved the theory correct. Nowhere was there a real-life demonstration in which a district had identified the top quintile of teachers, assigned low-performing students to their classes, and improved the test scores of low-performing students so dramatically in three, four or five years that the black-white test score gap closed.”

Ending the black-white disparity has been the Holy Grail of education reform since LBJ. Considering all the rewards that would befall any educator who could achieve it, you might assume that absence ofevidence after all these decades is evidence of absence.

And, theory alone suggests we should be skeptical that the effects of star teachers would “accumulate” for three, four, or five years in a row. That’s due to one of the most famous concepts in economics:diminishing marginal returns.

Consider a hypothetical example from a different kind of teaching: golf instruction.

These days, I have the money and time to only play golf about twice a year. I now average about 40 strokes per round worse than the superstars of the game.

But imagine that I somehow convinced the swing coaches of Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Pádraig Harrington, and Jim Furyk to drop their most famous clients and instead each work with me intensively for one year in succession.

Assume that during the first of these four years, Tiger’s new ex-coach Hank Haney helps me cut 10 strokes off my average score, from 108 to 98. Does that mean I would therefore be on track over four years to cut 40 strokes, all the way down to 68, and thus challenge myteachers’ former pupils for the green coat at the 2014 Masters?

Of course not.

That’s almost as mindless as saying that if I then got a fifth year of world-class golf instruction, I’d be averaging 58 strokes per round and winning every pro tournament by 20 strokes.

Similarly, by the logic of this latest schooling theory, if we gave blacks and Hispanics better teachers for not three,four, or five years, but instead six, eight, or ten years,then they’d be scoring twice as high as whites and Asians!

It’s easy for contemporary Americans to understand why the best imaginable teaching won’t erase the Superstar-Duffer gap in golf. Yet, apparently, it’s very difficult for most intellectuals to grasp why returns might diminish inattempts to close the white-Non-Asian Minority gap in school achievement.

That’s because the racial gap in academic achievement, and its unmentionable IQ cause, works on American intellectuals, liberal and “conservative”, like Kryptonite on Superman. It deprives them of all their powers, leaving them helpless as babies.

If you proclaim enthusiastically that sending the best teachers into the slums would close the Diversity Disparity, it serves as a sign that you aren’t one of those horrible heretics who thinks that genetics mightplay a role. It’s a way of saying: “Don’t do to me what you did to James Watson. I believe, I believe!”

The question we should be asking about this latest fad: why would we want to send the best teachers to teach the worst students?

In all non-politicized forms of instruction, you never hear anyone say anything analogous. Everybody simply assumes that the best teachers should work with the best students—that it is reasonable that Butch Harmon coaches Phil Mickelson rather me, that Phil Jackson coach Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant rather than a junior high school basketball team. For 2400 years, it has been assumed that it was a good thing for all concerned that Plato had Aristotle as a pupil rather than some random dolt.

Similarly, superstar economics professor and liberal pundit Paul Krugman is never criticized for being a professor at Princeton. You don’t hear anyone say Krugman should quit Princeton and go teach at Passaic County Community College where he could be doing more good.

On the other hand, Ravitch strikes me as overstating her case that (in the words of her title) Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education. While they aren’t panaceas, I don’t see much proof in her book that high stakes testing and charter schools are particularly hurting public education, either.

I haven’t noticed that public schools did a worse job in the2000s than in the 1990s. They almost certainly are doingbetter with the students they have to work with than in the 1970s, the dark period in U.S. K-12 education history that Charles Murray and Richard Herrnstein described in The Bell Curve as “The Great Decline”.

For example, in third party tests, the white-black racial gap has been slightly narrowing on the federal National Assessment of Educational Progress tests and slightly widening on the SAT. In other words, despite all the hullabaloo, the results are about the same.

What about charter schools? Ravitch emphasizes that by skimming off the inner city’s most diligent students, the much-celebrated Knowledge is Power Program chain of 60 charter schools [KIPP] leaves the nearby neighborhood public schools with even worse student bodies. Furthermore, KIPP can’t be mass-produced

KIPP provides a Marine Corps boot camp-like environment that appears to do some good for a small, self-selected segment of the hardest-working young people, just as Parris Island does some young men good. But mass-producing hundreds of Parris Islands wouldn’t solve our social problems. (“The many, the blasé, the Marines”—not much of a slogan!) Similarly, KIPP can’t ever become large enough, while staying true to itself, to move the needle much.

Yet, because they give “the few, the proud” a chance to get away from ghetto culture, I can’t oppose KIPP schools.

Similarly, we do need better statistics on school and teacher quality. But, as Ravitch demonstrates, we shouldn’t expect them to be the miracle cures that Bill Gates, Barack Obama, and Malcolm Gladwell presume.

As I’ve been pointing out since 1995, the traditional method of judging the job done by schools from their students’ test scores is self-evidently silly. Because scores are IQ-dominated, you’re mostly just measuring how smart the students were before they even enrolled.

Amazingly, over the last couple of years, my long-standing suggestion that we should instead measure “value added”—how much test scores go up relative to how smart the kids were when they started—has actually become fashionable. The Obama Administration is spending huge sums on capturing this kind of data via its Race to the Top slush fund.

Ravitch, however, contends that value-added statistics are too new, too iffy, and too manipulable to use in determining teacher pay and employment. Nobody knows yet, for instance, if a teacher would tend to average a higher value-added score if she takes on last year’s best or worst students. But when there’s salary on the line, teachers will quickly figure out how to game the system.

There’s a lesson here. Innumerate commentators, which is to say essentially all pundits and politicians, don’t realize that statistics don’t necessarily tell you what you think they do.

Consider sports statistics. One of the most famous numbers in American sports history is Wilt Chamberlain’s average of 50 points scored per NBA game in 1961-62 (including 100 in a single game). Nobody else has ever averaged 40. He also led the league in rebounding, the second most prominent statistic, with an astonishing 26 per game. So Wilt must have been, at minimum, the best player in the league that year, right?

Wrong. Scoring 50 points per game is more impressive to naïve stats fans today than it was to Wilt’s rivals and own teammates at the time. He lost the Most Valuable Player balloting in a landslide to Bill Russell, who averaged only 19 points per game. Wilt received just nine first place votes from his colleagues compared to Russell’s 51. Wilt loved winning statistical championships, but Russell loved winning team titles. (His Celtics won 11 in 13 years.)

If we had had today’s more sophisticated basketball statistics back in 1962, they might have been able to demonstrate quantitatively whatwas apparent to the players at the time: that Russell was better at helping his team win than Wilt was. It took a couple of generations to invent the requisite measures.

Moral from the study of sports statistics: it’s easy to come up with useful measures of small questions, but it requireslong, hard work to devise valid overall summative rankingsystems of who is better than whom—even though that’s what everybody craves.

Bill James, for instance, began revolutionizing baseball statistics in 1975. But it took him until 2000 to come up with his Win Shares for inclusive ranking of players.

And rating teachers is less like rating players and more like rating baseball team managers—an even larger challenge, one that baseball statistic fanatics have made only fitful progress in quantifying.

There’s another problem. While value-added ratings of teachers may be a good idea, there is simply no chance that they will be implemented honestly in Obama’s America (or George W. Bush’s, for that matter).


Because of something that the Educational Establishment has (again) been too crippled by Political Correctness to foresee: value-added ratings will have a DisparateImpact on black teachers.

Coleman noticed this in his 1966 study of schools: black teachers averaged more years of formal education, but that didn’t have any correlations with student achievement. The one thing that did matter, besides students’ backgrounds, was the IQ of their teachers. But to avoid hurting black teachers, he left this crucial finding out of the Coleman Report.

Tellingly, and ominously, Arne Duncan, the Obama Administration’s Education Secretary who is promoting “value-added” statistics, has also recently announced a new Civil Rights crusade to demonize school districts whose policies appear to have disparate impact on protectedminorities.

How are Duncan’s two contradictory campaigns going to be reconciled?

The same way that everything else is rigged in Obama/ Bush’s America: more quotas and more lies.

Ravitch ends her book with a call for a return to the quality neighborhood public schools she attended in Houston in the 1940s:

“Going to school is not the same as going shopping. Parents should not be burdened with locating a suitable school for their child.They should be able to take their child to the neighborhood public school as a matter of course …”

But in 2010, this is simply unrealistic. Massive demographic change, induced by federal immigration policy, has meant that the central problem with the neighborhood school is, typically, the neighborhood. As the real estate agents say when talking about “good schools,” “Location, location, location.”

We’re not supposed to talk about the downside of diversity, so the quality of chatter about schooling is low. Ravitch’s book is well above average, but it would have been even better if she didn’t have to tiptoe around this central fact.

So what goal do I propose instead of Closing The Gap?

My goal, instead, would be to raise the average performance of all racial groups by half a standard deviation.

In other words, both goals are intended to improve the national average by half a standard deviation—but theGates-Obama-Bush-Kennedy consensus wants to do it entirely by raising the scores of the minority half.

Which objective sounds more achievable?

Mine, obviously, for two reasons:

  1. Diminishing marginal returns: a one standard deviationimprovement is not merely twice as hard to accomplish as a half-standard deviation performance, it’s much harder.
  2. Real improvements tend to better everybody’s performance. For example, I can drive a golf ball farther off the tee than I could 15 years ago because driver technology has significantly improved. (Clubheads are approaching the size of toasters, so you can now take a wild swipe at the ball without fear of whiffing). But then, Phil Mickelson can also hit the ball farther,too. So the pro-hacker gap in driving distance hasn’t closed.

In summary: my aim is both more achievable, more fair, and more sensible than the Gates-Obama-Bush-Kennedy consensus.

And therefore, of course, it’s also much more unmentionable.

[Steve Sailer (email him) is movie critic for The American Conservative.

His website features his daily blog. His new book, AMERICA'S HALF-BLOOD PRINCE: BARACK OBAMA'S "STORY OF RACE AND INHERITANCE", is available here.]

(Republished from by permission of author or representative)
• Category: Ideology • Tags: Public Schools, VDare Archives 
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The Obama Administration’s munificence toward state and local public schools ($100 billion in stimulus funds, including a $5 billion slush fund to try to figure out what works) is bringing out of the woodwork the usual array of miracle workers with cures for whatever ails useducationally.

What’s palpably lacking in the Obama Administration’s approach to schooling, however, is frank empiricism, wisdom, and humane empathy for all types of children.

Fortunately, America’s leading social scientist recently published ashort, lucid book of his characteristic judiciousness laying out a roadmap for fundamental reform of schooling: Real Education: Four Simple Truths for Bringing America’s Schools Back to Reality. It begins with these words that every parent and teacher deep down know to be true:

“The educational system is living a lie. The lie is that every child can be anything he or she wants to be. No one really believes it, but we approach education’s problems as if we did. We are phobic about saying out loud that children differ in their ability to learn the things that schools teach.”

Worse, the opinion-setters angrily castigate those who explain the implications of how they behave when it comes to their own children.

“Not only do we hate to say it, we get angry with people who do. We insist that the emperor is wearing clothes, beautiful clothes, and that those who say otherwise are badpeople.”

The author notes of realism:

“This is not a counsel of despair. The implication is not to stop trying to help, but to stop doing harm. Educational romanticism hasimposed immeasurable costs on children and their futures. It pursues unattainable egalitarian ideals of educational achievement (e.g., all children should perform at gradelevel) at the expense of attainable egalitarian ideals of personal dignity. We can do much better for children who are below average in academic ability, but only after we get a grip on reality.”

The author demonstrates four simple truths and their profound implications:

For example, to give some sense of just where “average” is, the author provides this question from the federal government’s National Assessment of Educational Progress for 8th graders:

Example 1. There were 90 employees in a company last year. This year the number of employees increased by 10 percent. How many employees are in the company this year?

(A) 9 (B) 81 (C) 91 (D) 99 (E) 100

Guess what percentage of 8th graders got this one wrong?

62 percent.

And it’s actually worse than that, because a sizable fraction of the right responses were likely eenie-meenie-minie-moe guesses.

Most 8th graders can figure out what 10 percent of 90 is. And even more can add 90 and 9. What the majority can’t do is put to cognitively analyze the problem and put the steps together.

Once you admit the four simple truths, it’s not hard to come up with solutions that will make schooling more effective for most students.

Tracking, for instance. Why humiliate the worst students and bore the best students by clumping them in the same classroom? But tracking has been out of fashion ideologically since the late 1960s, in large part because it tends to lead to racial segregation within schools. Fortunately, it keeps creeping back in under various disguises (witness the proliferation of Advanced Placement classes in this decade.)

Discipline is another perfectly sensible notion that gets lost, in part due to anti-discrimination laws. The Los Angeles Unified School District, the country’s second largest, has a particular problem with enforcing discipline because LA has three essentials for discrimination lawsuits over disparate impact in discipline: its own deep pockets, lots of unruly non-Asian minority students, and an extraordinary number of high-powered LA Law-style lawyers constantly trolling for anti-discrimination suits.

Similarly, progressive education’s animus against having students memorize the times tables and historical dates is b etter for teachers (i.e., it’s less boring to teach) than itis for students, especially the left half of the bell curve. As the author points out, “memorizing is something that children do much, much better than adults”.

Moreover, Real Education is scathing on the myth of “Yale or jail”propagated by the education establishment:

“Worst of all, the current system watches these students approach the age at which they can legally drop out of school and acts as if it wants to push them out, urging them to take more mathematics, language arts, history, and science courses that they don’t want to take, so that they can pursue thecollege chimera.”

For example, the rich Gates Foundation put on a full court press a few years ago and persuaded the LAUSD school board to mandate that, to graduate from high school, students must pass not only Algebra I and Geometry, but also Algebra II—a class that is simply beyond a large swathe of humanity’s powers of abstract cognition.

For students in the mid-range of academic ability, those who today typically start higher education but wind up years later with tens of thousands of dollars in tuition debts but no four-year degree, the author offers a plan to break up the monopoly of the B.A. degree as asignaling device. (It would also reduce the frantic scramble to get into prestige colleges to acquire a halo effect with future employers.)

The author advocates, modeled on the existing Certified PublicAccountants exam, more national certification tests in a wide array of careers. Let students get as much higher education as they need to sit the exam in their chosen career. Then publish their scores for employers to see. Maybe the kid who spent two years working very hard at a community college learned more of relevance to his futureemployers than a kid who spent four years at Swarthmore.

Or maybe not. But why not have an objective way for employers to find out?

Unfortunately, this wise man’s name is Charles Murray. So Real Education has been almost completely ignored in this Era of Obamania. [ Note: It received a brief review in the NYT, (Title: Just Leave Them Behind) and a nasty one by Michael J. Feuer [email him]in Issues in Science and Technology, (Title:Danger: Bell Curve Ahead) in which Feuer said that if it weren’t for Murray’s fame and influence, dating back to Losing Ground, “there would be little reason to dignify the current polemic with a review in a magazine of the National Academy ofSciences.”]

A tenuous relationship between Obama and Murray goes back to 1994, the year Murray co-authored with Richard Herrnstein The Bell Curve.

Although Barack Obama has a strong urge toward literaryself-expression, his prudential awareness that what hedidn’t say now couldn’t hurt his career later meant that his publications during the 1990s were extraordinarily limited. Although he was editor of the Harvard Law Review, and later employed as a lecturer by the U. of Chicago Law Review, he authored no legal scholarship. Obama wrote obscure columns for the Chicago black newspaper and for the local weekly of Hyde Park, the upscale liberal enclave in which he kept himself ensconced, but they are not on line. (There is of course the massive exception of his 1995 autobiography, Dreamsfrom My Father, a tome so interminable in length andslippery in style that few have managed to figure out whatObama was talking about. See my America’s Half-Blood Prince: Barack Obama’s “Story Of Race And Inheritance.)

Unsurprisingly, the subject of Obama’s lone foray into national punditry in the 1990s, a commentary on National Public Radio, was so uncontroversial that it couldn’t possibly backfire on his ambitions: a denunciation of Charles Murray for co-authoring The Bell Curve.

Fifteen years later, the headline reads as the quintessence of irony

Charles Murray’s Political Expediency Denounced Byline: Barack Obama

Showing little evidence of having read the book he excoriated, Obama demanded more government spending on social programs that would benefit his political bases: blacks and social workers He said: “Now, it shouldn’t take a genius to figure out that with earlyintervention such problems can be prevented … In the short run, such ladders of opportunity are going to cost more, not less, than either welfare or affirmative action.”

Although the President constantly demands that the best teachers be sent to teach the worst students, in his own much-praised teaching career he made sure to teach only some of the most carefully selected elite students in the world: University of Chicago Law students.

In 1995, Obama became Chairman of the Board of the lavishly funded Chicago Annenberg Challenge, dreamed up by unrepentant terrorist BillAyers among others, and operation run out of the same floor (perhaps the same office) as Ayers’s Small Learning Community educational project. Years later, a careful study of test scores of students showed that Obama and Ayers had wasted about $100 million.

Having failed dismally as a school reformer himself, Obama has hired Mayor Daley’s school chief Arne Duncan to run the Department of Education. But Duncan is so handcuffed by the convention wisdom of educational romanticism that he won’t accomplish much.

The reason that almost nobody wants to think honestly about schooling is that each of the four truths exhibit “disparate impact” on non-Asian minorities. Once you start thinking hard about the data, you inevitably wind up a crimethinker:

Murray largely avoids talking about race in this book. But, in reality, there’s no escaping it for him. He’ll always be demonized as the co-author of The Bell Curve.

And yet there is a possibility for breaking this vicious cycle of denigration of the best social scientists and the inevitable result of knuckleheaded social policies.

The poisonous cultural atmosphere could be radically improved with a stroke of the President’s pen:

Obama could appoint Charles Murray his Senior Advisor on Education!

Obama’s Nixon-goes-to-China endorsement of Murray would radically clear the air in our society, undercutting the knee-jerk viciousness routinely directed at social scientists who dare to tell the truth.

Is there any chance Obama would do this?

Consider Obama’s appointment of that bête noire of feminists, Larry Summers, to an equivalent role on economic policy. Granted, that’s different because Obama—as far as I can tell from his autobiography—doesn’t care about feminism at all. (Note how during last year’s campaign, Obama revamped his wife’s image from $317,000 per year career woman to stay-at-home earth mother.)

In contrast, Obama deeply cares about race, as the subtitle to his autobiography—A Story of Race and Inheritance—suggests. He’s risen to the White House as the prime beneficiary of the conventional wisdom about race.

So why would he overturn the reigning dogmas?

Well, there’s only reason he would do so: if he actually cares about doing a good job as President.

We shall see.

[Steve Sailer (email him) is movie critic for The American Conservative.

His website features his daily blog. His new book, AMERICA'S HALF-BLOOD PRINCE: BARACK OBAMA'S "STORY OF RACE AND INHERITANCE", is available here.]

(Republished from by permission of author or representative)
• Category: Ideology • Tags: Public Schools, VDare Archives 
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Whenever I protest the firing of distinguished thinkers such as James Watson and Larry Summers for doubting the race-denying Blank Slate conventional wisdom, I often hear back something like this:

“Everybody who is in a position of power knows the facts, but, THINK OF THE CHILDREN! We can’t deflate their self-esteem by mentioning the truth in public. Don’tworry, though, the big guys aren’t naïve—they won’t doanything stupid just because we’re all supposed to talk as if everybody is exactly the same in intelligence.

Sounds reassuring, right?

But the evidence from what the big guys do makes appallingly clear that, in fact, they actually really, truly believe their own press releases.

Consider one of the biggest of the big guys, the governor of the largest state in the union: Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Last month, the former action hero persuaded the California Board of Education, all of whom he had appointed, to make California the firststate to require that all public school students, no matter how slow, take Algebra I in eighth grade.

This will be so destructive that even the State Superintendent of Public Instruction, Jack O’Connell, a notorious nimrod who last year blamed lower black test scores on white teachers imposing too much discipline on black children taught in black churches to be physically active,protested strongly.

Currently, in the massive Los Angeles public school district, four percent of students take Algebra I in seventh grade (as my son did when he went to an LAUSD middle school), 45 percent in eighth grade, 55 percent in ninth grade, 20 percent in tenth grade, and eight percent in eleventh grade. (The numbers add up to 132 percent due to students repeating the class because they flunked it.)

Here’s that paragraph in visual form:

The four percent of kids (in the salmon-colored cells onthe lower left diagonal of the table) who make it into their second semester of Algebra I in 7th grade, and thus are qualified to take the California Standards Test in Algebra I, are the same type of math stars who go on to take Geometry in 8th grade and Algebra II in 9th grade.

Similarly, the 45 percent of above average kids who takeAlgebra I in 8th grade (the yellow diagonal) go on to dookay in Geometry in 10th and Algebra II in 11th.

The kids in the bottom half of the bell curve (graydiagonal) begin taking high school level math in 9thgrade. They do poorly in it, as well as in Geometry andAlgebra II. (The kids in the uncolored cells in the upper right are typically ones who flunked a standard track course and are trying to catch up later. They do badly.)

Obviously, there are many students who would benefit more from studying basic math in 8th grade rather than jumping in over their heads into algebra.

And the ones who are capable of learning algebra at that age won’t benefit from having the other kids dumped, against their will, into their Algebra I classrooms.

Yet, the Governator prevailed by an 8-1 vote.

The technical issue at hand was whether the state would continue to offer two different California Standards Tests to eighth graders in the late spring of each school year: a harder one for the half who aretaking Algebra I and an easier one for those who haven’t started on algebra yet because their teachers and parents don’t see them as being ready for it.

Testing drives classwork. Hence, making all eighth graders take the algebra test means that all must take the algebra class.

Schwarzenegger denounced the current two-track testing system and demanded equality. Apparently he thinks only mathematical girly men worry that some students just aren’t bright enough for algebra in middle school.

Board of Education president Ted Mitchell, a Schwarzenegger appointee, proudly said the new policy rammed home by Schwarzenegger demonstrates that there is “unequivocally one set of standards for all kids, no matter their ZIP code, race or income level”.[Algebra 1 to be required for all 8th-graders, ByNanette Asimov, San Francisco Chronicle, July 10, 2008]

In previous generations, Algebra I was traditionally a ninth grade subject. It was felt that most students weren’t ready for the higher level of abstraction that algebra requires until well into puberty. Thesegenerations went on to design space rockets with slide rules, so maybe this wasn’t such a bad idea.

Lately, though, the educational system has pushed for introducing more advanced math earlier. And California has taken the lead. As Schwarzenegger noted in his decisive letter to the Board of Education:

“Since 2003, the number of California eighth graders taking Algebra I has increased from 34 percent to 52 percent, compared with just 30 percent of eighth graders nationwide. We expected more of our students, and they delivered.”[PDF]

Bunk. In reality, the students didn’t deliver at all. In 2003, California public school students scored nine points below the U.S. average on the National Assessment of Educational Progress math test for eighth graders. In 2007, after the large increase in the number of California eighth graders taking Algebra I that Schwarzenegger boasts of, they lagged the national average by ten points.

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Or get worse.

It is true that students who take Algebra I earlier in their careers average higher on the CST than students who take it later.

However, there’s a very simple explanation—the kids who have been getting into advanced math classes at an earlier age are better at math.

Unfortunately, that’s not the kind of explanation you’re supposed to mention in polite society.

Here are the percentages of Los Angeles students scoring Advanced (the equivalent of an A) or Proficient (B) on the California Standards Tests, with some color-coding to help you see what’s really happening.

The small fraction of kids (4%) who are good enough to do Algebra 1 in 7th grade (see the first table, top left) are so good that well over half (61%) get an “Advanced” or “Proficient” grade on the CST. Conversely, the small fraction of kids (8%) who are so weak in math that they only get to Algebra 1 in 11th grade (see first table again, topright) are so weak that only one in 20 (5%) get an “Advanced” or “Proficient” grade on the CST.

A pretty simple model, huh? Nevertheless, it’s largely unintelligible to our ruling class—due to pervasive political correctness.

Indeed, Schwarzenegger’s letter is a classic example of how ideas have consequences—even self-evidently stupid ideas. Schwarzenegger enunciates the race-denying Blank Slate theory on steroids.

Why? Because we punish prominent leaders like Summers and Watson who admit that they don’t believe the reigning dogmas. Therefore, we shouldn’t be surprised when other leaders, like Schwarzenegger, act as if these dogmas are real.

Just because there is such a thing as an imaginary number, though, doesn’t mean there is such a thing as imaginary reality. But don’t try to convince the governor of California of that. He doesn’t care.

Arnold wrote:

“The State Board must choose whether we align theeighth-grade mathematics test with our high expectationsor perpetuate a two-track system: one for high achieversand one for those of whom we expect less.”

Personally, I think a two-track system in math education seems like a good idea.

Reason: As Barbie correctly noted: “Math is hard!”

The second semester of Algebra I is particularly hard because the California standards focus on quadratics and rational expressions.

The first half of Algebra I, fortunately, is devoted to straightforward,widely useful problems like this one taken from the most recent California Standards Test of Algebra I (the test that was the subject of the dispute between Schwarzenegger and O’Connell):

By the spring, however, California’s Algebra I standards demand a wholly different level of cognition:

The answer, symbolically enough, is D: “No real solution”.

The United States of America is currently undergoing an economic crisis caused, in some not insignificant measure, by California homebuyers who couldn’t calculate the impact of a rise in interest rates on their home mortgage payments. We could be teaching theless-advanced half of eighth graders about interest rates. But instead, Gov. Schwarzenegger insists that we teach them all about rational expressions.

A “rational expression”, as you no doubt remember, is not what Isay as opposed to what the Governator says—here’s an example from the CST:

The answer, in case you were wondering, is C.

The Bush Department of Education (needless to say, given its authorship of the No Child Left Behind fiasco—see below) cheered Schwarzenegger on. The Associated Press reported:

“Assistant U.S. Secretary of Education Kerri Briggs praised the board’s action. She said California was setting a bold goal that would not be easy to achieve but was critically important. ‘Kids are dropping out because they’re bored and they don’t feel like there’s enough challenge and expectations for them,’ she said. ‘This may be exactly what they need to help spur achievement.’”

No, actually—the number of students who drop out because they aren’t being taught enough abstract math is negligible.

Far more drop out because they can’t pass required math courses like Algebra I and Geometry (and starting, this fall in Los Angeles, Algebra II).

Nor can they see how they would ever use the kind of techniques taught in the second semester.

Schwarzenegger goes on:

“This fork in the road is a choice between California’s bold future and a status quo that is safe, mediocre and unacceptable”.

Bunk (again). In reality, “mediocre” would be a distinct improvement over California’s present. As Schwarzenegger admitted, “In 2007, California’s eighth graders ranked 44th in the nation in mathematics achievement”.

(By my count, though, California’s eighth graders actually came in 45th out of the 50 states. Yet, who cares about simple arithmetic when we have the abstract worlds of algebra to conquer?)

Schwarzenegger states:

“I am asking the State Board to do away with the below grade-level General Mathematics test and designate the state’s existing Algebra I exam as California’s test to measure eighth-grade mathematics for federal accountability purposes. To do otherwise would lower our expectations and continue to divide our children between those we believe in and those we leave behind.”

I’m frequently accused of over-rating the importance of IQ. Nonetheless, it’s the mainstream (and nobody more perfectly represents mainstream thinking than the liberal Republican governor of California) who repeatedly act as if they believe lower IQ people are so innately worthless that we all must pretend that they actually have the same IQ as everybody else.

As Karl Rove once notoriously said, h e didn’t want his son doing menial hotel work (so bring in Hispanic illegals). But America once respected the dignity of labor.

Arnold continues:

“If we don’t believe in every child’s potential, how can we ask children to believe in themselves?”

This is both a cliché and insanity.

We all know that the potential of some individuals in mathematics is incredibly greater than that of others. As Charles Murray wrote in the “Summation” chapter of Human Accomplishment, quoting math historian John Derbyshire:

“Before the Eulers, Gausses and Newtons, we are worms, worms.”

And, guess what? The vast majority of human beings don’t find their sense of self-worth shattered by not measuring up to Gauss in mathematics. (Indeed, most of them have never heard of him.) As Tolstoy observed:

“No one is satisfied with his fortune, and everyone is satisfied with his wit.’

Schwarzenegger sums up:

“Today’s decision sends a signal to the rest of the nation that California has faith in our students to achieve their dreams and exceed expectations. California’s children have already proven that when we set the bar high—they can do anything.”

You might wonder whether Schwarzenegger’s delusional reasoning reflects steroid-induced mania or merely conventional wisdom.

Yet, these days, is there really much of a difference? For example, in 2001, President Bush and Senator Kennedy got together and passed the No Child Left Behind act, which mandates that every single public school student in America will by 2014 score “proficient” (i.e., above average).

This madness is driven by the perceived need to act as if, real soon now, we’re going to social engineer all ethnic groups into equality.

Sadly, children get hurt by this irrational policy-making.

It’s time to stop worrying about eliminating group differences—and start worrying about helping all students achieve as much of their potential as feasible.

(Republished from by permission of author or representative)
• Category: Ideology • Tags: Public Schools, VDare Archives 
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How can we improve America’s K-12 schools? While we’re waiting for Charles Murray to unveil his plan in his upcoming book, Real Education (due in August), here are some ideas I’ve had.

  • #1: educators need to stop falling for this year’s Solution of the Century every year.

A huge amount of time is wasted reorganizing schools and retraining teachers for the latest fad, which, typically, was tried and discarded so long ago that nobody can remember anymore. (So don’t take these ideas I’m tossing out all that seriously!)

Many teachers and administrators don’t mind all the reorganizations because sitting around playing office politics versus each other is more fun than trying to get students to memorize the Times Tables.

The dogma of racial equality helps explain much of the educartel’s susceptibility to the latest cult craze. Nobody has ever been able to get blacks and Hispanics to consistently perform as well as Asians and whites on a large scale. And, since the obvious implication of this reality is unthinkable (in many minds, quite literally), then it must be the schools’ fault. What else could it be?

This logic is then used by cranks reformers to justify implementing their pet obsessions. If the schools are small, for instance, that could be the reason for the racial gap. So, make them bigger. If they are big, then make them smaller. Just do something!

For example, the insanely rich Gates Foundation has been pressuring public schools to deconstruct themselves into small learning communities—which was what Americans were trying to get away from back when they built big learning communities.

One way to gain a wiser perspective on K-12 fads is to think abou t how you chose which college to attend. For some reason, ideology tends to get in the way less in individuals’ college choices than in debates about public policy.

Did you pick a small college or a big college?

And did you make the right choice?

You may have a strong opinion on the subject of the optimal college size. But, whatever it is, you have to admit that other people disagree with you. After all, both Caltech (864 undergraduates) and University of Texas at Austin (36,878 undergraduates) seem to have done pretty well for themselves over the years. Different sizes come with objective advantages and disadvantages. For example, when I attended huge UCLA, there were professors on campus expert on practically every topic under the sun, but my parking lot was a half-hour walk away. Moreover, different people flourish best in different size schools.

Education fads are seldom motivated by statistical research, since it’s hard to move the needle noticeably for a large number of schools. As we’ve known since the Coleman Report during LBJ’s Great Society, the students are more important than the school.

Instead, education vogues are launched by statistical outliers.

Small schools are particularly likely to be outliers, because they are small. There are so many of them, and unusual things can happen more easily when fewer people are involved.

These flukes aren’t necessarily false results. When the right principal, right teachers, and, especially, right students come together, good things can happen.

Not surprisingly, though, outliers are hard to replicate on a large scale.

Lots of new educational fads are launched by charismatic individuals who can personally make them work. Charisma can accomplish amazing things. Rasputin apparently could stop the Crown Prince of All the Russias’ internal bleeding just by talking to him. Nevertheless,“Hire lots of Rasputins!” is not a reliable strategic plan for hemophilia clinics.

Similarly, there are millions of schoolteachers in America. As the law of large numbers would suggest, most of them are not charismatic superstars like the ones they make inspirational movies about.

  • #2: School size is probably not worth worrying about—but school district size is.

That big districts tend to be bad districts is widely admitted to be true. But the main reason isn’t well understood.

Size doesn’t necessarily worsen management performance. Wal-Mart, for example, has 1,800,000 employees, far more than any school district, yet it manages them better than any school district 1/100th its size.

No, the problem with a big school district is that it’s so big that it doesn’t feel much competition from surrounding districts. For example, the northern and western suburbs of Chicago are famous for quality public schools. The many small municipalities compete with each other to have the best schools in order to have the highest property values. If a corporate worker wants to buy a home within, say, 10 miles of O’Hare airport, he can choose among dozens of rivalrous towns.

In contrast, the northwest suburb of Los Angeles, the San Fernando Valley, falls largely within the Los Angeles Unified School District (which is coterminous with the vast city of Los Angeles). For instance, the LAUSD’s Chatsworth High School, in the extreme northwest of the Valley, is over 30 miles from City Hall.

Not surprisingly, LAUSD is notoriously blasé, with a giant downtown bureaucracy t hat routinely gets in the way of what its better educators out in the schools want to do. LAUSD can be this shoddy because it has an enormous captive audience—over four million people living on some of the world’s prime real estate.

In contrast, several of the smaller school districts within the general LA area have better reputations than LAUSD—not just rich Beverly Hills and Santa Monica, but also more diverse Long Beach, Glendale and Burbank. These smaller districts compete with LA for young families more than LA competes with them.

You can see how school district size affects quality by looking at the performance of public school football teams. In recent decades, most of the top high school football teams in the country have come from either Catholic schools or public schools in smaller municipalities, such as Hart High School in the Santa Clarita Valley north of Los Angeles. The 2007 Birmingham Patriots from the San Fernando Valley were celebrated as the exception that proves the rule: the first LAUSD team in twenty years that was competitive with Southern California’s suburban and exurban superpowers. The big city schools have more black players, who get most of the college football scholarships for reasons we (but no-one else) have written about before. But big city teams seldom have the support structure needed to be competitive at the highest levels.

Why not? Because the politicians and parents in smaller places care more. Exurban public schools play the public schools of rival exurbs. A winning team is good advertising for the town. It attracts homebuyers, boosting the property values of current residents.

But big city schools mostly play other schools from the same big city. So, when one LA City team beats another, it’s a wash to the politicians.

Needless to say, I’m not saying the purpose of high school is to win at football. But I am able to use football as an example of the mediocrity caused by lack of competition because it’s relatively easy to measure success in sports. It’s much harder to measure how good a job schools are doing.

Many argue that all we need is a voucher system, and then the market will perform its magic. As a father who has sent his kids to both private and LAUSD schools, however, I know how hard it is currently for parents to get useful information comparing schools.

And that brings us to …

  • Three: we need independent school achievement testing agencies.

There is a gigantic conflict of interest in current K-12 testing. The No Child Left Behind act tells the states to make up their own tests, administer their own tests, grade their own tests, then report back to Washington on whether the test scores have gone up enough for the states to keep getting federal bucks.

That’s why Mississippi has, officially, the highest percentage of proficient readers in the country.

In contrast, we don’t let law schools hand out licenses to practice law to whomever they graduate. We insist that would-be lawyers pass an independently-administered state bar exam. Same for medical schools.

Similarly, for college admissions testing, we have two independent agencies: ACT and ETS/College Board. The colleges don’t trust high school grades without confirmation by independent test scores.

You’ll notice college admissions test scores don’t suddenly zoom upwards from one year to the next the way state-created K-12 tests often do. The independent agencies aren’t perfect, but they have less incentive to cheat.

  • #4: we need to measure school achievement relative to the IQ of each student.

In college and, increasingly, in high school sports, there is a distinction between coaching and recruiting. In the old days, a basketball coach like Adolph Rupp o f the University of Kentucky would largely restrict himself to recruiting from his home state, figuring he could outcoach his rivals. Today, though, the royal road to NCAA success is in luring freaks of nature from all across the country to come play for you. There’s not much point in trying to teach them basketball fundamentals, since they’ll be off to the NBA after their mandatory one year of college ball.

Something similar happens with school testing. The easy route to success is in attracting better students rather than doing a better job with the ones you’ve got.

For the country as a whole, though, this kind of competitive recruiting is basically a zero-sum game.

Which is why, for every student in America, we need a baseline measurement of his or her intelligence. That would allow us to compare their school achievement scores to their IQ to see how much value the schools are adding.

For example, in Los Angeles County, the non-exclusive public high school with the highest average SAT score is San Marino, at 1230. So, the staff and teachers of San Marino must be doing a bang-up job, right?

Actually, nobody knows. Many of the students are the scions of Hong Kong millionaires, so anybody not stupefied by political correctness would expect them to do well because the average IQ of the students is so high to start with.

What we need is to have each student tested for IQ by an independent agency when he or she starts at a school—say, kindergarten, first grade, and sixth grade, and ninth grade. (Tests are less accurate in the early years, so it’s useful to have two scores when the child is young.)

The figures would be kept encoded in a national database (with all the usual privacy protections). The schools would be publicly graded on how much achievement it elicits from its students relative to their IQ.

Schools could use this information as well. They could specialize in different types of students—they could advertise to parents that they are a good at adding value for students with two digit IQs or for students with IQs over 115 or whatever.

Whether or not we go to a voucher system, we still need this kind of testing system to figure out which schools are doing a good job and which ones aren’t

Will these reforms do much to fix America’s schools? Well, see suggestion #1—don’t get too excited over new education ideas!

On the other hand, it’s hard to see how they would hurt.

The hard truth is that the quality of the students matters most.

And that’s why the surest way to relieve some of the pressure on American schools is to end our post-1965 immigration disaster.

(Republished from by permission of author or representative)
• Category: Ideology • Tags: Public Schools, VDare Archives 
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Why doesn’t America ever get better at educating children?

During my lifetime, Americans have made progress in many fields—for example, retailing, where Wal-Mart and Costco operate profitably selling at inflation-adjusted prices that would be unimaginably low to past generations.

Yet, our schools keep bumping along, with one fad replacing another, but little if any improvement in results.

In the early 1990s, I frequently visited Bentonville, Arkansas, making sales calls on Wal-Mart. What distinguished Wal-Mart from every other major corporation I’d met with was the ruthlessness of its rationality. Its employees would tear apart the slightest weakness in my sales pitch.

In contrast, the vast education business is shot through with charlatans peddling snake oil because the mindset of the education establishment is anti-rational.

Contemporary education theory resembles medieval alchemy, with its high-priced gurus preaching contradictory techniques, because the basic fact—you can’t turn lead into gold—is inconceivable.

Yet, once people gave up on the idea of turning lead into gold, they found there was a tremendous amount they could methodically do with lead and gold and all the other elements. The age of scientific chemistry had begun, to the great benefit of humanity.

We’re still in the Alchemy Age of education, though.

The essential problem facing any education system: half the kids are below the median in educability.

That’s a tautology so it has to be true. But, to our educrats, it’s a damnable heresy.

If we could raise each student to his or her full potential—which of course would be much better than we’re doing now—the top half would leave behind the bottom half.

Of course, that’s exactly what we’re not supposed to do, according to the No Child Left Behind act put together by President Bush and Senator Kennedy.

The unpalatable truth is that success in school depends mostly on the student’s intelligence and work ethic. Teachers and techniques can add or subtract from what the student brings to school from home. But we won’t make much progress if the education establishment abstains from honest thinking.

For example, one big trend in recent years in the battle against the so-called “soft bigotry of low expectations” has been to set strict statewide standards mandating by which grade each bit of learning will be learnt. In fact, California teachers are supposed to write the Standards on the classroom whiteboards so that the students can make sure that their teachers aren’t slacking off and leaving out anything that is officially mandated. (Whether any student has ever complained is unknown.)

For example, in California’s public schools, third graders officially will, among much else: Memorize to automaticity the multiplication table for numbers between 1 and 10.”

Still, what happens to the ones who fail to “memorize to automaticity” in third grade because they aren’t smart enough yet? Do they spend fourth grade chanting their times tables?

Are you kidding? The State of California has a whole bunch of new standards for them to master in fourth grade, such as

“Draw the points corresponding to linear relationships on graph paper (e.g., draw 10 points on the graph of the equation y = 3 x and connect them by using a straight line”).

There’s no time for teachers to go back to assist the laggards.

Therefore, many kids never memorize their times tables. And that means they are never going to be any good at math, because if you don’t know your times tables, you’ll be slowed down so much by balky mechanics that you’ll lag at higher level problem-solving.

If you think in terms of bell curves, you can see how this problem is inevitable with any set of standards. Some kids are ready to learn something in Grade X, many others in Grade X+1, but some won’t be ready until Grade X+2.

Yet if you make everybody wait around until Grade X+2, you’ll waste too much of the smart and even average kids’ time.

So, typically, states compromise and choose Grade X+1 as the standard. Because math is cumulative, however, more and more students fall behind each year and can’t catch up, so by high school they aren’t close to the standards.

Of course, nobody is supposed to think in terms of bell curves. So too bad about the kids who could have learned their times tables if given enough time. They won’t. Eventually, they’ll probably drop out of high school, and if they’re male and a non-Asian minority (NAM), they’ll likely spend some time in prison.

That’s unfortunate—but, apparently, it’s better than educators defiling their moral purity by thinking about bell curves.

The sensible thing would be to “track” students by ability into classes appropriate for their mental quickness. But tracking is terribly out of fashion. So, the smart kids sit around bored.

The latest fad: teachers should put the smart kids to work teaching the d*mb kids (or as the latest jargon calls them, low-confidence learners).

What often happens is that we end up with de facto tracking in the public schools, via crypto-selective institutions like magnet schools. For instance, the Los Angeles Unified School District, the nation’s second largest, has erected a magnet school application process that’s so complicated that only the smarter, more diligent, and better-connected parents can figure it out. When these folks notice that their kids are being abused as unpaid teacher’s assistants, they learn how to manipulate the system to get them out.

For an example of how disconnected from simple reality the educrat zeitgeist is, consider the bizarre contortions that a prominent speaker at a math teacher’s conference recently went through to try to slip in the idea that some kids are slower than other kids:

“Math students should act more like artist Paul Cezanne and less like Pablo Picasso, author Malcolm Gladwell said Wednesday evening.

“Gladwell, who wrote the best-selling books The Tipping Pointand Blink, told math teachers gathered at the Salt Palace Convention Center for the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics conference that the Western world’s attitude toward learning and achievement has much to do with America’s struggle to keep up internationally in math. …

“He said Western culture values people who are conceptual learners and innovators, like Picasso. Picasso was an artistic innovator early in his life. They are people who achieve success quickly and in a big way.

“But that’s not the only way to innovate or learn, Gladwell said. Cezanne was also an artistic genius, but his greatest achievements came bit by bit and over time. He was an experimental innovator, Gladwell said.

“Society often forgets that genius and achievement can take persistence and hard work over years. … ‘We need classrooms full of Cezannes, not just Picassos.’”

[Author: Be patient when teaching math, by Lisa Schencker,Salt Lake Tribune, April 10, 2008]

Okay … but the problem is that our classrooms are full of kids who are neither current (Picasso) nor potential (Cezanne) geniuses. They’re just the normal distribution of children.

I’m hoping that Gladwell knows his talk about “genius” is a joke and that he was just trying to arm teachers with a useful new euphemism:

“Mrs. Smith, your little Johnny is what we in the education profession call a ‘Cezanne.’”

(Unfortunately, with Malcolm, you never can tell if he gets the joke …)

If educational theorists get Gladwell’s joke, then schools could track students into the Picasso (fast), Monet (average), or Cezanne (slow) classes.

But why won’t our education overlords think in terms of bell curves?

The answer is obvious: because the Picasso track would be full of whites and Asians, while the Cezanne track would be full of blacks and Hispanics.

The sad things is that there are lots of small ways to improve American schools, but the entire field of K-12 education theory has come to be dominated by fools and hypesters because the key concept—that some kids are smarter than others—is radioactive. And the reason it’s taboo is that when you objectively measure performance, you get massive disparate outcomes by race. In the U.S., thinking scientifically about human differences always threatens to blow up in your face. So few people do it.

Thus, the quality of education research in modern America resembles the quality of astronomical research in Italy following Galileo’s conviction. We’re living in a country where, to hold a position of responsibility in education, you have to, in effect, publicly proclaim that the sun goes around the earth.

That’s why the education industry is so anti-rational, so swept by manias, by the search for magic solutions that will square the circle: because all thinking is devoted to making the sun go around the earth. You wouldn’t want to end up like Galileo, would you?

As a result, our institutions focus on the impracticable problem of eliminating the racial gaps in American students’ performance, instead of the much more achievable goal of helping students come closer to attaining their individual potentials.

A friend compares the taboo on thinking about race and IQ to black holes:

The metaphor that’s always come to my mind is that of living near some sort of singularity—a black hole.

Basically, anything that gets too close to the singularity falls inside and disappears. People go around their daily lives, when suddenly someone accidentally gets too close—James Watson?—and Bam! He disappears.

The powerful tidal effects from the invisible singularity warp all sorts of social structures into bizarre shapes and behaviors.

Gradually over time, more and more pieces of our world drop inside the singularity and disappear—until eventually the entire society collapses.

[Steve Sailer (email him) is founder of the Human Biodiversity Institute and movie critic for The American Conservative. His website features his daily blog.]

(Republished from by permission of author or representative)
• Category: Ideology • Tags: Public Schools, VDare Archives 
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Saturday was the 25th anniversary of the famous “A Nation at Risk” report issued by the Reagan Administration’s Education Department in 1983. It warned:

“… the educational foundations of our society are presently being eroded by a rising tide of mediocrity that threatens our very future as a Nation and a people.”

Ever since, we’ve been deluged with news stories about school reform.

And what has been the tangible result of this quarter century of tumultuous effort and vast expense (including nearly doubling the amount spent annually per student in constant dollars)?

Uh, not much …

I’ve been following American educational and other social statistics for more than just 25 years—since I was 13 in 1972, 36 long years ago. (See below).

After the turmoil of the 1960s, the last three-dozen years have turned out to be The Age of Few Surprises. Over that time, the high school dropout rate has gotten a little worse, the racial gaps haven’t changed much, we still trail affluent East Asian countries (there are just a lot more of them now), and so forth and so on.

In short, the rising tide of mediocrity hasn’t receded; and may well have kept rising.

Apparently, what the schools do matters less in the big picture than who the students are. And the quality of students arriving at schools hasn’t improved.

I knew that when I was 13. (Again, see below).

The basic trends and patterns of American society that I first noticed as a 9th grader are still with us, just magnified by subsequent demographic change. The future turned out to be foreseeable, for the few who cared to notice back in the 1970s.

Why did I spend the fall of 1972 reading social science reports? The national high school debate topic was the financing of public schools. Most teams argued, when they were on the Affirmative, that the federal government should take over the schools, and fund them all equally lavishly.

As a new 9th grader looking for evidence to use in the debates, I read through the many studies that had been begun during the liberal 1960s on the value of more spending in narrowing educational disparities.

That was an era when a sure-fire applause line on a talk show was, “If we can put a man on the moon, we can certainly [fill in massive liberal social engineering project].”

Yet, as I sat in the high school library during the Nixon-McGovern campaign, reading up on the research, I discovered that the most sophisticated studies showed that differences in school performance had more to do with the quality of students enrolled in the school than with the money spent on them or other measurable inputs.

The most famous example: Johnson Administration had commissioned sociologist James S. Coleman to head a huge project to provide statistical support for the Great Society faith that poor children would be lifted from poverty by increased spending.

Coleman surveyed the sprawling diversity of school systems in the U.S. and came up with a conclusion that was so shocking to the conventional wisdom that the Johnson Administration finally released the report late on the afternoon of July 3, 1966 in order to minimize media coverage: The Coleman Report found that family background mattered more than schools.

(And the Johnson ploy didn’t work in one momentous respect: years later, Richard J. Herrnstein told Forbes’Peter Brimelow that a television news item about the Coleman Report was the “flashbulb moment” thatgot him thinking about the genetic component in IQ, leading ultimately to his co-authoring The Bell Curve.)

Similar findings kept pouring out, such as Berkeley psychologist Arthur Jensen’s article in the December 1969 Harvard Educational Review that Great Society programs such as Head Start hadn’t narrowed the IQ gap.

In 1972, Northwestern sociologist Christopher Jencks made a splash with his book Inequality: A Reassessment of the Effect of Family and Schooling in America. (Jencks is now at Harvard, and has become perhaps the leading critic of illegal immigration on the academic left.) It reaffirmed most of Coleman’s discoveries, but usefully emphasized the large role of luck, personality, and other unpredictables in determining success in life.

A review by Leon Todd on summarizes some of Jencks’ 1972 findings:

“… it is probably wiser to define a “good” school in terms of student body characteristics than in terms of its budget or school resources. According to Jencks, once a good school starts taking in “undesirable” students (the definition of desirable sometimes pertains to academic, social, or economic attributes), its academic standing automatically declines. He concluded that while an elementary schools’ social composition had only a moderate effect on student’s cognitive achievement, secondary or high school social composition had a significant effect on achievement. … The type of friends students are likely to make, the values they are exposed to, and satisfaction or dissatisfaction with the school, are all dependent upon the character of the student body. ”

This all made sense to me at age 13. I could see it in my own life.

I was attending a then down-at-the-heels Catholic boys’ high school. The tuition was only $600 per year and the school accepted a large majority of students who took its entrance exam. Still, those two barriers to entry made the atmosphere much more academic than that of the public school a block away where I’d attended summer school the two previous years.

I can’t say I spread my newfound enthusiasm for statistical meta-analysis to too many of my high school classmates. And yet—and believe me when I tell you that this is important at age 13—they weren’t stuffing my head in the toilet for talking about it.

In fact, I was reasonably popular. My eccentricities were tolerated and even mildly encouraged. (I imagine, by the way, that attending a single sex school made my nerdish obsession with social science more acceptable than it would have been in the social maelstrom of a coed school. But that’s another article!)

Professor Jencks noted that the data showed that liberalism’s key assumption—that equal opportunity would lead to equal results—was wrong. Therefore, Jencks argued, we must have socialism. (That was a fairly original argument at the time, as it remains today).

The late Ernest Van Den Haag wrote in the old National Review that

“Unlike his fellow socialists, Jencks no longer believes that inequality of results is the product of unequal social opportunity. He realizes that equal opportunity and advancement according to merit produce unequal incomes. Wherefore he urges that this most American (and constitutional) of ideas be abandoned, for he wants equality of results, even if it can be achieved only by making opportunity unequal. After all, it is luck rather than merit that determines results, and luck has no moral weight. Beyond this assertion (which has already been questioned), Jencks makes no serious attempt to justify morally his brand of equality. He simply assumes that we are all agreed…

“As P. T. Bauer has pointed out, ‘income distribution’ suggests a fixed stock of income which the government is to distribute and which (discovered by luck?) is independent of the continuous work of those who earn it. Indeed Jencks feels that, since chance distributes income unequally, the government should be ‘…responsible…for its [more equal] distribution.’ However, the government does not produce the income Jencks wants it to distribute. Nor does chance. The earners do. There is no stock of income to be distribute d; only a flow produced by those who earn it. That much is certain (economically) even if one doubts (morally) that the earners deserve to get what they earn.

[The Tortured Search for the Cause of Inequality,(Pay archive) National Review, February 16, 1973]

My first published bit of writing was a letter-to-the-editor [March 16, 1973, Pay archive] in National Review that winter of 1972-73 responding to van den Haag’s article about Jencks’ big study. I wrote:

Having read Ernest van den Haag‘s article on Christopher Jencks, I am reminded of an old psychiatry joke: A psychotic (egalitarian, in this little morality story) says. “All people are equal, and I’ll fight anyone who says I’m wrong.” A neurotic (Jencks) says, “People aren’t equal, and I just can’t stand it.”

STEVEN SAILER Studio City, Calif.

Now that I think about it, that one paragraph foreshadowed several million words I’ve written since.

I guess I’ve been stuck in an intellectual rut ever since I was 13.

Still, unlike an awful lot of writers, my particular intellectual rut has resulted in me not being surprised very much.

[Steve Sailer (email him) is founder of the Human Biodiversity Institute and movie critic for The American Conservative. His website features his daily blog.]

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In the grand tradition of Ebenezer Scrooge, economist James J. Heckman, a Nobel Laureate and 2002 Statistician of the Year, says “Bah! Humbug!” to the happy-clappy statistics the federal government has been feeding us on a key omen of America’s future: high school dropout rates.

In an important paper with the bland title of The American High SchoolGraduation Rate: Trends and Levels, [PDF] Heckman of the U. of Chicago and co-author Paul A. LaFontaine of the American Bar Association report:

“The true high school graduation rate is substantiallylower than the official rate issued by the National Center for Educational Statistics.”

The Department of Education’s NCES claims that the graduation rate has been rising since back in the late 1960s, when it stood at 80 percent. [Dropout Rates in the United States: 2005]

(Note: this implies, of course, that the dropout rate back then was 20 percent: 100 percent minus the graduation rate of 80 percent equals the dropout rate of 20 percent. Heckman and LaFontaine’s study always reports the graduation rate, but I’m going to turn it around at times and look at the more arresting dropout rate.)

According to the feds, as cited by Heckman and LaFontaine:

“U.S. schools now graduate nearly 88 percent of studentsand black graduation rates have converged to those ofnon-Hispanic whites over the past four decades.”

But in fact Heckman and LaFontaine’s exhaustive study of the widest array of data sources consulted to date finds that the high school dropout rate isn’t 12 percent, but about twice that. And the racial gaps have been steady since the early 1970s.

Moreover, although the high school dropout rate improved steadily through the middle of the 20th Century, falling from 75 percent in the early 1920s to 20 percent in the late 1960s, it has worsened, by up to one-fourth, since then.

This was not expected, to say the least. The high school graduation rate should still be going up—because dropping out is ever more of a personal disaster. H&L point out:

“The U.S. high school graduation rate has declined at atime when the returns to completing high school havegreatly increased.”

Dropping out of high school is a terrible way to start your life. For example, 78 percent of prisoners, but only 9 percent of new recruits allowed to enlist in the U.S. military, are high school dropouts. H&L add:

“… more than one-third of all black male high school dropouts age 20-35 were in prison on an average day in the late 1990s—a higher proportion than found in paid employment.”

This means trouble for all of America. H&L sum up:

“To increase the skill levels of the future workforce,America needs to confront a large and growing dropoutproblem.”

H&L’s study finds:

“The decline in high school graduation is almostexclusively concentrated among young males. The overallmale graduation rate fell 7 percentage points from thefirst to the last cohort, while the female rate fell by only 1 point …”

And that’s bad news because males cause most of the trouble in this world.

(The college graduation rate has been improving, reaching 24 percent for men and 36 percent for women born in 1980. But even this growth has been tailing off lately as the high school graduation slump feds through. H&L comment:

“The slowdown in the high school graduation rateaccounts for a substantial portion of the recent slowdown in the growth of college educated workers in the U.S. workforce… This slowdown is not due to a decline in rates of college attendance among those who graduate high school.”)

The high school dropout rate has improved a little since the passage of the No Child Left Behind act in 2001. But H&L are cynical:

“NCLB gives schools strong incentives to raise graduation rates by any means possible… Whether these represent real gains or are an indication of schools cheating thesystem in the face of political pressure remains an openquestion for future research, although the timing suggests strategic behavior.”

“Strategic behavior” is a euphemism for skullduggery.

Why is the federal government’s favored measure of high school graduation misleading? It’s biased in large part by counting as graduates those dropouts who subsequently pass the GED test (the “General Educational Development” exam, often referred to, incorrectly, as the “Graduation Equivalency Degree”.) Heckman’s earlier research shows, however, that the GED counts for less in the eyes of potential employers than does a genuine high school degree:

“Although GED recipients have the same measured academic ability as high school graduates who do not attend college, they have the economic and social outcomes of otherwise similar dropouts without certification.”

Dropouts who can pass the GED test are generally smarter than dropouts who can’t, but they tend to have poor work ethics:

“Despite measures of cognitive ability similar to highschool graduates, GED recipients perform significantlyworse in all dimensions when compared to them (Heckman and Rubinstein [2001]). GED recipients lacknoncognitive skills such as perseverance and motivationthat are essential to success in school and in life.”

Indeed, over 10 percent of all GEDs are earned in prison:

“However, minority male high school completers arealmost twice as likely as white males to possess a GEDcertificate (Cameron and Heckman [1993]). … A significant portion of the [ethnic ] convergence reported in the official statistics is due to black males obtaining GED credentials in prison.”

Needless to say, boning up for the GED is a better way to pass the time in the slammer than such popular alternatives as sharpening a shiv on your cell’s concrete floor or making Pruno wine out of ketchup in your toilet. But it likely won’t do you as much good as staying in school and out of prison in the first place.

Another major contributor to the long-term worsening in dropout rates since the late 1960s: changing ethnic ratios among young people. For example, the Hispanic share of public school students has increased from 6 percent in 1972 to 20 percent.

Dropout rates have gotten slightly worse for all groups, but I estimate that the majority of the deterioration for the country as a whole is simply because Hispanics and blacks making up a larger share of the population than they did 35 years ago.

In contrast to the federal propaganda, H&L find that the dropout rate is around 35 percent for both African-Americans and for those more assimilated Hispanics who either were born in America or have been here at least a decade.

In fact, despite somewhat higher test scores than blacks, these Americanized Hispanics still appear to leave school early at a somewhat greater rate than blacks.

H&L report that the dropout rate for all Hispanics, including recent immigrants, is significantly worse because

“… almost half of Hispanics in this [18-24] age group immigrated within the last ten years. These recent Hispanic immigrants are primarily low-skilled Mexican workers … The migration of workers with low levels of education has increased substantially over the past 40 years.…”

One of H&L’s crucial findings: the ethnic gaps are not getting better:

“In fact, we find no evidence of convergence in minority-majority graduation rates over the past 35 years.”

The H&L study carefully inspects seven massive “longitudinal”surveys that have tracked thousands of young people through their adult lives. It finds that graduation rates for blacks and Latinosimproved during the 1960s, when legally segregated schooling was effectively abolished. But since then, there has been stagnation and, perhaps, slight deterioration for all three major ethnic groups.

This intractability of racial differences is something that is constantly assumed away by popular pundits who demonize anyone who suggests that these gaps might have genetic origins. “All we have to do is change the environment!”

Perhaps. But, despite 35 years of rapid changes in the social environment, nothing has happened to the dropout disparities. The only difference is that there are now far more low-performing minorities than in 1972.

With racial gaps, this is a common pattern seen across many different measures. Relative quality differences among the races languish virtually unchanged from decade to decade. But, primarily throughimmigration policy, we allow relative quantity to change relentlessly—in inevitably unfavorable directions.

What has the educational system been doing about the dropout problem?

In recent years, politicians keep raising the graduation requirements in theory, while giving principals and teachers incentives to lower them in practice. Many locales have piled on advanced math and other rigorous classes, plus mandatory exit exams, all the while threatening topenalize schools for their dropout rates.

The net result of all this sound and fury: dropout rates have crept upward slightly over the last generation and a half.

Our social engineers must show some humility. They must admit that they don’t have much of a clue what will help. Realistically, the best we can hope for are modest improvements.

The simplest steps are to remove the disincentives that keep students from achieving their individual potentials.

To do that, however, the educational elite must finally take into account that we don’t live in Lake Wobegon, where all the children are above average. Half of the students must be below average inintelligence.

Yet, this simple tautology is off-limits these days … because more than half of the Non-Asian Minorities (NAMs) are below average.

Thus, America’s education policy makers—ranging from school board members to the architects of the NCLB, Senator Kennedy and President Bush, and even on to the main financial backers of the meddling Gates Foundation, the hyper-intelligent billionaires Bill Gates and Warren Buffett—seem so paralyzed by fear of being Watsoned for mentioning the Bell Curve gap in IQ that they ignore simple cause and effect reasoning.

For example, in his private business affairs, Microsoft founder Gates isnotoriously preoccupied with uncovering and exploiting differences in human intelligence. Rich Karlgaard of Forbes reported:

“During that trip, I must have heard Mr. Gates mention’IQ’ a hundred times.” [Microsoft's IQ Dividend, Wall Street Journal, July 28 2004]

And yet the Gates Foundation is one of the prime funders of the Higher Flapdoodle in public education. For instance, Gates largely paid for the Aspen Institute’s Commission on the No Child Left Behind Law, which recently endorsed renewing the legislation’s nutty mandate that every single student in America test as “proficient” (i.e., above average) by 2014.

The conventional wisdom is that having a two-digit IQ is such a horrible debility that the only thing we can do for the poor bastards is nevermention “IQ” in public. But that just leads to more foolish, counter-productive policies—for example, the Educational Industry’s obsession with getting students into four-year colleges because of the myth that their only options are Yale or Jail.

Consider how the nation’s second largest school district, Los Angeles, where over half of all NAMs drop out, is attempting to lower the dropout rate by making it harder to graduate—while simultaneouslythreatening school administrations with dire consequences if they don’t raise the percentage of students graduating.

The LAUSD has essentially outsourced its high school graduation requirements planning to the elite University of California, which only allows in high students who have passed its rigorous “A-G” curriculum of required courses.

A 2005 press release from the Gates Foundation trumpeted:

“In June, the LAUSD board approved a plan requiring allhigh school students beginning with the class of 2008 tocomplete a 15-course series, known as the A-GCurriculum, in order to graduate. This is the samerequirement for admission to the University of California and California State University systems.”

The new A-G Curriculum requirement will mandate two years of foreign language (i.e., Spanish, as instruction in other languages are being phased out in LA).

Obviously, this is intended as a gift to Hispanic immigrants. But it will be another cross to bear for African-Americans, who have never shown much enthusiasm for learning Spanish. For example, lawyer Winston Kevin McKesson, a protégé of Johnnie Cochran who defended the rogue police officer upon whom Denzel Washington’s Oscar-winning portrayal in “Training Day” was based, told me in 2001 that only 4 out the 900 black LAPD officers speak Spanish, even though a large fraction of the witnesses and perps in LA speak only Spanish.

Worse, every public high school student in LA will have to pass not just Algebra I and Geometry to graduate, but also Algebra II.

It would be nice if each student in LA were smart enough to pass Algebra II. But they aren’t. (I wonder how many LA School Board members could pass Algebra II …)

As John Derbyshire‘s recent book Unknown Quantity: A Real and Imaginary History of Algebra emphasizes, the essence of algebra is abstraction. Human beings differ wildly in their talent for abstractthinking, from Gauss at the top of the pyramid down to, well, a lot of high school students at the broad bottom.

Even a recent Gates Foundation press release admitted:

“only about 22 percent of 9th graders in the class of 2003 graduated having successfully completed the A-G curriculum.”

There’s a reason that most high school students in LA aren’t successfully completing UC prerequisites: they aren’t UC material.

By law, the UC system is reserved for the top 1/8th of California high school students.

Moreover, LA, America’s City of the Future, is the anti-Lake Wobegon. In the LA school district, no more than ten percent of entering 9th graders will, before they leave high school, score at or above the intended mean of 1000 on the SAT—Math plus Verbal, not including the new Writing test. (By the way, that would be an 890 under the pre-1995 SAT scoring system.)

Redmond, we have a problem.

The fact is that it can be rational behavior for some students to drop out now rather than wait around to be superannuated because they can’t pass their math requirements.

They get it. Why can’t the people in charge figure that out?

What would a more sensible approach to the high school dropout problem look like?

  • The first point to remember: not all dropouts are created equal.

Every school has a certain number of anti-students who are so disruptive that the rest of the student body would be better off without them. For the most thuggish students, the dropout rate isn’t too high—it’s too low. So schools shouldn’t be assessed negatively for every single dropout. They should be encouraged to grease the skids under their most counter-productive students.

(Most big school districts these days have “Continuation Schools”that serve as isolation pens for the most troublesome students, giving them the opportunity to continue their education online and withweekly one-on-one meetings with teachers. So, the gangbangers and the like can still get a degree if they want to, but they don’t have to drag other kids down with them.)

  • Second: we should be using both sticks AND carrots.

The latest educational fad—trying to terrify not-so-smart kids by threatening to flunk them out—is counterproductive. Many students quickly figure out that their odds of completing all the requirements andpassing the exit exam are slim. So they give up midway through 9th grade.

It’s time to admit that four years of high school, just like four years of college, isn’t for everybody. We’ve long offered Associates of Arts degrees for passing two years of community college. Why not some kind of associate high school diploma for making it through 10thgrade?

That would give the bottom tier of students a feasible goal, and then allow them to get out in the work force earlier, and with a credential telling employers they aren’t complete goofs.

For those who can benefit from four years of high school, it makes sense to give them a hierarchy of diplomas to aim for. A good model might the traditional British degree classification, where, if you avoidfailing, you are awarded a First, Second, Third, or Pass degree. These finer distinctions allow students of varying levels of ability to set appropriate goals for themselves. And they let employers get a more discriminating read on a graduate’s potential.

There are many students in our public high schools for whom getting a Third would be a sizable accomplishment, a reasonable goal for which they could strive for four years. And just getting a Pass degree would at least represent to potential employers that they are reasonably diligent.

  • Finally: as always, when we find ourselves in a hole, it’s time to stop digging.

Letting in more unskilled immigrants is just digging ourselves a deeper hole.

Realism isn’t welcome in American public life. But the plain fact is that this blind political correctness is wrecking kids’ lives.

[Steve Sailer (email him) is founder of the Human Biodiversity Institute and movie critic for The American Conservative. His website features his daily blog.]

(Republished from by permission of author or representative)
• Category: Ideology • Tags: Public Schools, VDare Archives 
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California State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell has figured out a way to aid students of whatever race to come closer to fulfilling their potential.

He is denouncing white public school teachers as bigots.

According to O’Connell, white teachers contribute to the racial gap ineducational achievement by imposing excessively strict discipline.

The Superintendent’s bizarre statements illustrate why VDARE.COM chose to be one of the few publications to defend the great geneticist James Watson: when the truth is denounced as unthinkable, madness results.

And people get hurt.

Jared Taylor did an excellent job in on Tuesday, Nov. 13 of analyzing O’Connell’s bullying Achievement Gap Summit held last week for 4,000 attendees in Sacramento. But this episode is so illustrative of the pervasive dysfunctionality that Political Correctness inflicts upon modern America that it’s worth exploring further.

O’Connell, a politically ambitious white Democrat, is a potentially significant figure. He has already received a million dollars from the founder of NetFlix to kick off a run for governor when Arnold Schwarzenegger is term-limited out in 2010.

This isn’t just local news. California governors are automatically Presidential Possibilities. A Governor O’Connell could be in the hunt for a Vice-Presidential nomination in 2012 or a Presidential nomination in 2016.

O’Connell got his political start over a quarter of a century ago on the school board of then-idyllic Santa Barbara County. In those days, the big challenges facing Santa Barbara schools included higherabsenteeism when surf’s up.

This sheltered politico was shocked to discover recently (after five years on the job as Superintendent) that the lower average school performance of Non-Asian Minorities [NAMs] can’t be explained awayby poverty.

At all income levels, there remain substantial racial differences in average achievement. For example, whites and Asians who are so poor that they are eligible for the National School Lunch Program stillearn higher average NAEP scores than NAMs from families above the income cutoff.

Maybe O’Connell has watched too many inspirational inner city teacher movies, like Hilary Swank’s Freedom Writers, Meryl Streep’s Music of the Heart, and Michelle Pfeiffer’s Dangerous Minds—a genre memorably parodied by MadTV in its trailer for a fictitious film entitled Nice White Lady. He’s apparently decided that the performance chasm is caused by Mean White Ladies.

According to O’Connell, church-going black youths are being persecuted by Mean White Lady schoolteachers:

“O’Connell now believes that widespread cultural ignorance within the California school system is responsible for the poor academic performance of many black and Latino students in school.

“He offered the example of black children who learn at church that it’s good to clap, speak loudly and be a bit raucous. But doing the same thing at school, where 72 percent of teachers are white and may be unfamiliar with such customs, will get them in trouble, he said.

“The achievement gap is ‘absolutely, positively not genetic,’ O’Connell said.’All kids can learn. I’m saying it’s racial.’”[Summit called to address racial disparities in academic performance, by Nanette Asimov, San Francisco Chronicle, 11/12/07]

In other words, the State Superintendent [Email him]is blaming the gap in part on white racist schoolteachers enforcing too much discipline in California’s public schools.

O’Connell’s statement caused a controversy, leading him to apologize … not to white schoolteachers, of course (there wasn’t any media tumult over that), but to black churches.[CA Schools Superintendent Criticized For Alleged Racist Remarks, KNTV, November 13, 2007]

After the conference, O’Connell kept up his attack on white teachers, telling the Los Angeles Times:

“O’Connell concurred, talking of ‘a cultural bias that impedes instruction. Well-meaning, well-educated people can unintentionally be part of perpetuating institutional racism.’ Thenation’s schooling system, he said, ‘developed to educate white children and remains most advantageous to white children.’” [State summit targets ethnic gap in student achievement,By Howard Blume, November 18, 2007]

None of this talk about white privilege makes the slightest sense, and everyone who lives in California knows it. California isn’t Mississippi—where there are only two ethnicities and it can be hard to know if you’re making a fair comparison because there’s no third race to serve as the control group.

In California, in contrast, there are over a half million Asian public school students. They now actually outnumber black students. And their academic achievement isn’t undermined by “white privilege”.On average, they outperform whites in school, just as all theclassroom lore about whose test to cheat off would suggest.

Moreover, if O’Connell isn’t aware that California public school teachers are already subjected to long hours of ethnic sensitivity training, he must have spent his first term as Superintendent in a cave.

Finally, O’Connell’s implication that too much classroom discipline is holding NAM students down is just barking mad.

For example, Nanette Asimov (yes, she’s the niece of science fiction great Isaac Asimov) pointedly reported in the SF Chronicle on the only session out of the 125 at O’Connell’s conference where real high school students were asked what would help them:

“‘If the room is quiet, I can work better—but it’s not gonna happen,’ said Nyrysha Belion, a 16-year-old junior at Mather Youth Academy in Sacramento County, a school for students referred for problems ranging from truancy to probation.

“She was answering a question posed by a moderator: ‘What works best for you at school to help you succeed?’

“Simple, elusive quiet.

“Nyrysha said if she wants to hear her teacher, she has to move away from the other students.’Half our teachers don’t like to talk because no one listens.’”

After five years of Jack O’Connell as head educrat, California nearly hit rock bottom on the 2007 National Assessment of Educational Progress tests. California students’ reading scores are horrible, withthe state ranking 48th out of 50 states in 4th grade reading and 49th in 8th grade reading.

But the performance of California, home to Silicon Valley, in that universal language, mathematics, may be even more disturbing: 47th in 4th grade math, 46th in 8th grade math.

California’s dim future is mostly not O’Connell’s fault. The primary culprit is “demographic change”—i.e., immigration.

I suspect that the Superintendent is babbling insane nonsense because he’s terrified of blurting out what he suspects is the real reason for the gap…and finding himself Watsoned out of his precious political career.

But, unfortunately, as Richard Weaver pointed out long ago, ideas have consequences …no matter how stupid the ideas are. O’Connell’s ridiculous rationalizations have taken on bureaucratic momentum. Hehired Glenn Singleton, [Send him mail] a black professional diversicrat, as his racial sensitivity consultant and wants to subject white publicschool teachers to Singleton’s system of Maoist-style self-criticism sessions (Singleton calls them Courageous Conversations) about white privilege.

The last thing California public schools need is for O’Connell andSingleton to wage a Cultural Revolution from above against school discipline. That would tell NAM students, in effect, to play the race card even more than they do now when they get in trouble.

Now, I sent my son to a California public school and was quite satisfied. If you can find one in a decent neighborhood with entrance requirements and an outstanding principal (which is hard, because big city public school principals, although they would seem the epitome of “management”, often have their own principals’ unions to shelter them), a public school can thrive for a number of years…before the educrats downtown finally notice its excellence and stamp it out.

I’ve talked to lots of parents and teachers over the years and have heard California public schools praised and damned. But I’ve never ever heard anyone say there was too much discipline in them.

In my son’s classes, discipline wasn’t a big issue. But he was in the school’s exclusive Science Academy, which was run by a charismaticaction movie actor who was a martial arts black belt.

But with run-of-the-mill students, teachers, and schools, discipline can be a massive problem. (For a report from the trenches about the “pandemonium” reigning in some schools, check out Friday’sWorldNetDaily article Battle-scarred ‘sub’ in L.A. barrios speaks out by substitute teacher Migdia Chinea.)

One growing difficulty: in many schools these days, the main discipline tool is for teachers to threaten, like E.T., to phone home.

Yet when they do call the parents, it frequently doesn’t work because:

  • Or the parents (especially the father) aren’t around much;
  • Or they don’t care;

If these parents were better at accomplishing their goals, they wouldn’t be sending their kid to such an undisciplined school, now would they?

In fact, since problem-solving has never been their strong suit, the parents were kind of hoping, reasonably enough, that society’s giant institutions would help with disciplining their kids—not just try to dump their problem with their little hellion right back in their laps.

Sometimes phoning home works a little too well. The kid comes to school the next day with a black eye. Students know that’s a get-out-of-jail-free card for the rest of the semester—because the teacher is then terrified that if she calls Papa a second time, he’ll smack the brat with his bottle and put him in the intensive care ward.

Still, on most middle and high school campuses, there are school employees who are reasonably good at getting energetic, muscular young males to obey them. They are called football coaches.

Clearly, some of their success is due to being able to bench or toss off the team players who won’t subordinate themselves. But good coaches also have the right kind of alpha male personalities to firstintimidate and later impress young males. As Tom Wolfe mentioned to me a couple of years ago, lots of men have made it their life’s study to dominate other males through force of personality.

You don’t even have to pay them a huge amount of money to impose their wills on students. They like doing it.

Of course, many of the best disciplinarians were hellraisers themselves when young. Bad boys generally have no philosophical objection to authority in the abstract; instead they just object to somebody elsebeing in charge.

That’s why wild young males are more likely to respond positively to authority figures whom they could imagine themselves growing up to be. They’ll never grow up to be a Nice White Lady. So the schools have to provide the teachers with a second line of disciplinary defense, composed primarily of men with necks thicker than their heads.

So, as a public service, let me offer my plan for improving school discipline:

Hire two more assistant coaches, one for football and one for a spring sport, such as a shot-putting coach for track and field.

Huh? That’s it?

Pretty much, but there are a few wrinkles:

  • Their day jobs will be as Assistant Deans of Discipline. They will trade off running after-school detention in the fall and spring. They will be hired largely because they like imposing order.
  • They will be encouraged to develop psychologically creative and effective punishment techniques, such as having disobedientstudents scrape gum off the underside of desks and other distasteful detention duties.
  • The requirement that administrators must have a college degree will be suspended for the Dean of Discipline position. Ideal candidates would include retiring Armed Forces sergeants. Demanding only a high school diploma sends the message to young troublemakers that they don’t have to turn magicallyinto nerdy brainiacs to grow up to hold positions of respect and power.

I realize that there’s nothing innovative about my plan. It’s just old-fashioned common sense.

But, in our PC era, common sense is under siege.

[Steve Sailer (email him) is founder of the Human Biodiversity Institute and movie critic for The American Conservative. His website features his daily blog.]

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• Category: Ideology • Tags: Public Schools, VDare Archives 
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A reader who teaches math in a public high school in northern Orange County, California recounted the following dialogue with one of his students:

Student: “My mom is 28 years old.”

Teacher: “How old are you?”

Student: “Fifteen.”

Teacher: “So, your mother had you when she was thirteen?”

Student: “Wow! You can do that in your head that fast?”

Teacher: “Uh, well, uh, don’t worry about it. That’s why I’m a math teacher!”

And his student went away happy, self-esteem reassured by knowing that only nerdy math teachers can quickly subtract 15 from 28.

Meanwhile, America’s Great and Good carry on making plans for America’s schools based on assumptions that wouldn’t survive an hour in an average classroom. (Not that they would ever send theirkids to a typical school.)

The Aspen Institute’s bipartisan Commission on No Child Left Behind, co-chaired by former governors Tommy Thompson and Roy E. Barnes and paid for by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (among others), has just issued 75 recommendations for improving the NCLB legislation when it comes up for renewal by Congress this year.

Despite the many small reforms advocated in the Commission’s report Beyond NCLB: Fulfilling the Promise to Our Nation’s Children(222 page PDF), not one word of criticism is uttered against the original legislation’s most important and implausible requirement:“that all children should reach a proficient level of academic achievement by 2014″ in math and reading.

The report declares this goal of 100 percent proficiency by 2014 to be “audacious … morally right … and attainable.”

What they don’t mention about this demand: It’s nuts.

“Proficient” is a technical term in Ed-speak—the second highest of the five levels of achievement in school testing, roughly equivalent to asolid B. So the NCLB law requires that all students be B students within seven years…just like in Garrison Keillor’s fictional Lake Wobegon,“where all the children are above average.”

My original assumption was that the Commission was cynically aware that NCLB is a bad joke. Yet it is also naively recommending plugging the crucial loophole that might make “100 percent proficiency”almost achievable on paper.

In the current NCLB, which was largely the result of an alliance between President Bush and Senator Kennedy (who are also the two leading advocates for comprehensive immigration reform“—hmmm!). Each state is allowed to concoct its own test to determine whether its own students have reached “proficiency,”which the state can define however it pleases.

Not surprisingly, practically every single state cheats in order to meet the law. For example, Mississippi, that intellectual powerhouse, recentlydeclared that 89 percent of its 4th graders were at least “proficient”in reading.

Unfortunately, however, on the federal government’s impartial National Assessment of Educational Progress test, only 18 percent of Mississippi students were “proficient” or “advanced.

(The most honest state, surprisingly enough: Louisiana—with Missouri, Massachusetts, and South Carolina deserving honorable mentions.)

Overall, the typical state claimed that 68 percent of its 4th graders were proficient readers, compared to the 30 percent found by the honest NAEP.

Corruption this blatant didn’t escape even the Commission’s notice:

“Most significantly, the fact that NCLB allows states to set their own standards has led to wide and unacceptable variations in expectations across states. Many states have not set standards high enough or they have chosen to set a low bar for what constitutes proficiency. … Therefore, we recommend the development of voluntary model national content and performance standards and tests in reading or language arts, mathematics and science based on NAEP frameworks.”

In other words, the Commission is so clueless that it didn’t realize that the fraud built into the NCLB wasn’t a problem, it was a solution. Bald-faced swindling on a colossal scale is the only imaginable way of reaching the NCLB’s goal of making every kid in the country into a B student by 2014. Requiring states to achieve an impossible level of performance, but not providing any system for disinterested outsiders to measure the states’ performance, was a massive hint that thestates were supposed to cheat.

You can see just how much bamboozling is necessary by looking at the NAEP results. On the federal government’s 2005 National Assessment of Educational Progress exam for 8th graders, reading scores were distributed like this:

Advanced (A): 3 percent
Proficient (B): 28 percent
Basic (C): 42 percent
Below & Far Below Basic (D & F): 27 percent

So 69 percent of American 8th graders are under the 2014 legally mandated requirement of proficiency.

And their 2005 performance was even worse than in 2002, the year the NCLB started. Then, only 67 percent were below proficiency.

At this rate of (negative) progress, achieving 100 percent proficiency won’t take just until 2014—it will take until, oh, the Twelfth of Never.

Blacks’ and Hispanics’ achievement shortcomings are even more overwhelming according to the NCLB: 88 percent of blacks and 85 percent of Hispanics fell short of proficiency in 2005.

Similarly, in math, 70 percent of all 8th graders were less than proficient.

In its wisdom, the Commission also called for Congress to mandate 100 percent proficiency in science as well—even though 71 percent of 8th graders weren’t up to that mark in 2005.

A report prepared for the Campaign for Educational Equity by Richard Rothstein, Rebecca Jacobsen, and Tamara Wilder sums up theabsurdity of NCLB in its title: “‘Proficiency for All’ – An Oxymoron.” They point out:

“In its administration of NCLB, the U.S. Department of Education barely acknowledges this human variability. … Under NCLB, children with I.Q.s as low as 65 must achieve a standard of proficiency in math which is higher than that achieved by 60 percent of students in Taiwan, the highest scoring country in the world (in math), and a standard of proficiency in reading which is higher than thatachieved by 65 percent of students in Sweden, the highest scoring country in the world (in reading).”

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.

For example, let’s take the man who, more than anybody else, paid for the Commission on NCLB’s report endorsing the essential lunacy of NCLB: Bill Gates.

Now, Gates didn’t get to be the richest man in the world by trusting in the philosophy upon which the NCLB law is based: that absolutely every individual can be intellectually proficient.

Instead, Gates hires the highest IQ employees he can find. Rich Karlgaard, former editor of Forbes ASAP, reminisced in the Wall Street Journal about a journey he took with Gates in 1993:

“During that trip, I must have heard Mr. Gates mention ‘IQ’ a hundred times. The obsession with smarts is embedded deep in Mr. Gates’ thinking and long ago was institutionalized at Microsoft. Apply for a job and you’ll face an oral grilling that probes for IQ. It is oral andinformal because of Griggs v. Duke Power, the 1971 Supreme Court ruling that banished written IQ tests and ‘tests of an abstract nature’ from job applications. But Microsoft knows what it wants. It wants IQ.” [Microsoft'sIQ Dividend, By Rich Karlgaard July 28, 2004, (Pay Archive)]

This complete contradiction between what Gates knows to be true in his personal affairs, and the nonsense that he pays to promulgate in public, is never held against him (or against anybody else). Instead, lying in public is now considered the mark of a good person. The bad people are the ones like Charles Murray who carefully document what everyone else silently knows already.

One of the rare honest reports (America’s Perfect Storm“) on the dire implications for America’s future of importing unskilled labor came recently from the Educational Testing Service, creator of the SAT. The Christian Science Monitor noted:

Coming US challenge: a less literate workforce By Amanda Paulson “US workers may be significantly less literate in 2030 than they are today. …

“The three factors identified are: a shifting labor market increasingly rewarding education and skills, a changing demographic that include a rapid-growing Hispanic population, and a yawning achievement gap, particularly along racial and socioeconomic lines, when it comes to reading and math.

“The individual trends have been identified before, but this study makes an effort to examine their combined effects, and to project a disturbing future, including a sharply declining middle class in addition to the lost ground in literacy.

“‘We have the possibility of transforming the American dream into the American tragedy,’ says Irwin Kirsch, a senior research director at ETS and the lead author of the study.’” [More]

America’s elites have no idea how our schools work (or fail to work), but our students understand the score.

The math teacher in Santa Ana told me of a conversation he had with another of his students the day before the young man was to try for the third time to pass the CAHSEE test, which is now required to graduate from high school in California. (And which, much to thesurprise of California’s leaders, is causing students to drop out):

Teacher: “So, you ready for the big test?”

Student: “Sure. I’ve got a good plan. This time I’m notgoing to cheat off a really dumb guy.”

Teacher: “You’re going to do it all on your own?”

Student: “Of course not. Tomorrow, I’m going to sit next to an Asian kid.”

Not for the first time, PC thinking about human differences—in this case, bipartisan—is heading us for disaster, this time in the area of public education policy. Ironically, our elites also probably think thatAsian immigration will bail them out.

[Steve Sailer [email him] is founder of the Human Biodiversity Institute and movie critic for The American Conservative. His website features his daily blog.]

(Republished from by permission of author or representative)
• Category: Ideology • Tags: Public Schools, VDare Archives 
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America has a dysfunctional hate-love relationship with standardized tests. In private, students and their parents are terrorized by SAT and ACT college admission test scores. In public, the federal No Child Left Behind legislation adores tests—it requires that each state test its students and publish the results as part of the mandate that every single student in America reach the “proficient” level in math and reading just seven years from now.

The lessons we draw about testing make little sense.

For instance, one of the many fibs Americans tell each other about schooling is that it’s crucial to attend a prestigious college in order to get a good education. As proof, we point to the high test scores that students at the most famous colleges earn—such as a mean of 1500 out of 1600 at Yale on the SAT, the best-known college entrance exam.

Yet Yale doesn’t systematically test its seniors to determine how much their four years in New Haven have taught them. Instead, Yale’s prestige depends in large part upon the stratospheric SAT scores earned by its freshmen while they were in high school.

In reality, we use the average test scores of the college that somebody attends to estimate his intelligence and diligence. Thepredictable result: an arms race, as ever more students try to worm their way into the most exclusive colleges—a mania that allows colleges to raise tuition relentlessly.

Worse is what our lack of rigorous thought about the realities uncovered by testing does to children in the bottom half of the intelligence curve. Public officials constantly make policies that show they don’t have a clue just how clueless millions of young people are. People who are below average in intelligence have enough problems as it is, without being persecuted further by ignorant politicians.

Public discourse about test scores is also retarded by a technical problem. There are such a proliferation of school achievement tests across the 50 states (the NCLB refused to institute a national test), that few people understand what the various scores mean. The states test scores are just not as familiar as SAT scores, which tens of millions of Americans understand at least roughly.

Recently, I recently stumbled on a database on the LA Almanacwebsite listing the average SAT scores at every Los Angeles County public high school. The results were quite startling. They say a lot aboutpublic policy—and, indeed, about the future prospects for America. Because, perhaps more than anywhere else, our future is being test-driven in our most populous county, Los Angeles, with its 10 million residents.

Before going over what Los Angeles area students average on the SAT, allow me to review the basics of SAT scores.

Each section of the SAT is scored on a 200 to 800 scale. A third section, Writing, was recently added, but most colleges at present are not paying much attention to it yet, so I’ll look just at the better known Verbal (now called “Critical Reading”) and Math scores.

To give us oldsters (i.e., anybody over 30) some perspective on what current SAT scores mean, let me first point out that scoring was made considerably easier in the recenteringof 1995. The SAT was originally normed on Northeastern prep school students. As the percentage of U.S. students who took it each year grew, the averagescore fell. The goal of the recentering was to put the mean of each test back up to around 500.

So, all you oldtimers out there need not be astounded by how high SAT scores are at elite colleges these days. Recentering means that test takers who would have scored 420 under the old Verbal SAT scoring system had their scores raised to 500. Those scoring 470 on the Math SAT had theirs raised to 500. So, an 890 before 1995 wouldtoday score 1000 (500 V plus 500 M = 1000).

Somebody who had an 1120 (520 V plus 600 M) in the past would receive a 1200 today. And a 1350 (640 V and 710 M) would garner a 1400 today.

Currently, 1000 is the 46th percentile among test-takers. The mean is now at 1021 (503 V, 518 M). For your reference, 1200 is the 79th and 1400 the 96th percentile.

An important point: 1021 is just the mean among students who are considering college seriously enough to take the SAT. A sizable minority of students don’t bother. So a 1000 would probably be somewhere around the 60th or higher percentile nationally among all 17-year-olds.

If you are more familiar with the ACT—an entrance exam widely taken in the Midwest—a quick conversion has a 1000 SAT (new style) equal to about 21 on the ACT, while 1200 = 26, and 1400 = 31.

Ambitious parents agonize over whether their scions can measure up at, say, Cal Tech, where the mean score among enrolled freshmen three years ago was 740 Verbal and 790 Math for a total of 1530.Duke’s was 1420. Northwestern’s 1395.

Many states’ flagship public universities aren’t far behind the top privates. Thomas Jefferson’s U. of Virginia averages 1340. Berkeley,UCLA, Michigan and North Carolina are around 1300.

Even public colleges better known for sports often boast impressive SAT scores. The U. of Florida, for instance, which is the reigning NCAA champion in both football and basketball, averages 1267. Football runner-up Ohio State is at 1190, as is perennial powerhouse Oklahoma, with the Alabama at 1107.

The strongest traditionally black college, Howard U. in Washington D.C., averages around a quite respectable 1080. Cal State Long Beach, a somewhat above-average public commuter college, is about 1040.

What’s much less well-known are the average SAT scores of high schools.

In Los Angeles County, the most exclusive private prep school,Harvard-Westlake, claims 1385. The most prestigious Catholic high school, Loyola, says its graduates average 1242.

Nearly matching Harvard-Westlake with a 1382 is the public high school Whitney, a mostly Asian public school in Cerritos that chooses students based on test scores. (Like the famous New York City science highs such as Stuyvesant, which averages 1410.)

The highest scoring neighborhood high school in LA Country without special admissions tests is San Marino, in the exquisite township south of Pasadena founded by old money WASPs. (San Marino’s first mayor was George S. Patton Sr.) It’s been popular with Hong Kong millionaires for a few decades, and the student body is now 70 percent Asian. The average SAT score is 1231.

Below this top one percent of public high schools, where almost everybody takes the SAT, a methodological problem crops up: how to count students who don’t? For example, Beverly Hills H.S., probably the most famous public school in America from the countless movies and television series set on the campus, averages 1190. That sounds really good, but only 74 percent of the students take the test. The other quarter would likely drag down the school’s average if they were forced to take it. (Electing A New People note: 40 percent of the students are now Iranian.)

Fortunately, the LA Almanac data table reports another very useful number: the percent of students in 12th grade who scored at least1000. There’s nothing magical about that score, but it’s reasonable to say that kids with 3-digit SAT scores are going to have to work exceptionally hard to graduate from college. (For example, at Cal State Northridge in the San Fernando Valley, the average SAT score is 930 and only 25 percent graduate within six years, even though tuition is free.)

Thus, at Beverly Hills H.S., 62 percent of students scored 1000 or better. That’s excellent, yet not all that impressive considering Beverly Hills’ storied wealth—it’s only 9th best in LA County, behind Whitney, California Math Academy in Long Beach, San Marino, La Canada, the two Palos Verdes schools, Arcadia, and Calabasas.

Within the Los Angeles Unified School District, which is 72 percent Hispanic overall, the highest ratio of 4-digit SAT scores is found at the all-magnet Los Angeles Center for Enriched Studies (LACES). Some 57% of its seniors reached at least 1000.

The only other of the 60 LAUSD high schools with over half of the students exceeding 1000 is the suburban Granada Hills charter high school, which includes a magnet subschool. (All LAUSD figures incorporate the scores of students at magnet subschools within the overall high school’s average.)

Other LAUSD high schools include the SOCES magnet, with 40 percent scoring over 1000, North Hollywood and Van Nuys at 28 percent, Birmingham (which was the subject of an LA Times series on the dropout crisis because it’s so average) at eleven percent, and Hollywood at five percent.

Near the bottom are Washington, Jordan, and Locke, with only two percent of seniors breaking 1000. And last but least is Jefferson, which is 92 percent Hispanic and eight percent black, and has been the scene of brown v. black race riots. At Jefferson, merely 7 of the 639 twelfth-graders reached 1000 or higher.

In the entire LAUSD, only 14 percent of seniors make it to 1000.

Among those who took the SAT in LAUSD, blacks averaged 807, Hispanics 829, Asians 1007, and whites 1059.

Did lack of English hold Latino mean scores down? Unlikely. LAUSD’s Latinos averaged 408 on the Verbal section and 421 on the Mathsection, compared to 525 V and 534 M for whites and 477 V and 530 M for Asians. This small gap between the Verbal and Math scores for Latinos suggests that unfamiliarity with English is not a severe problem for those who do take the SAT. Those who don’t speak English well are less likely to take the SAT.

It would be easy to blame the poor test scores in Los Angeles public schools on the LAUSD, a vast bureaucracy with a poor reputation for management. Yet 26 of the 56 other school districts in Los AngelesCounty have worse test scores—many much worse.

Take the Compton Unified School District … please. Only one percent of Compton’s seniors score over 1000. While Compton was the home of West Coast gangsta rap, its school district is now 69 percent Latino. At Compton’s Centennial High, whose red school color was adopted by the notorious Bloods gang when it was founded atCentennial in 1972, only 22 percent of 12th graders took the SAT. And this cream of the Compton crop recorded an average SAT score of 715.

For Los Angeles County as a whole, which includes some of the ritiziest suburbs in America, just 18 percent of public school students reached the 1000 benchmark.

But the news is actually worse. These statistics overestimate the average LA County teenager’s aptitude.

That’s because a huge percentage of Southern California students drop out before 12th grade. At a typical LAUSD high school like Birmingham in the San Fernando Valley, there are 1442 9th graders and only 532 12th graders. At South Central Locke, which is 5/8ths Hispanic and 3/8ths black, a UCLA study estimated the graduation rate at 24 percent.

Overall, the LA Times reported:

“… a study by the Civil Rights Project at Harvard University calculated that only 45% of students were graduating in four years from Los Angeles schools. The rate was even lower for Latino students, and much higher for white and Asian American students. African Americans were close to the districtwide average.” (L.A. Mayor Sees Dropout Rate as ‘Civil Rights Issue’ By Mitchell Landsberg, Times Staff Writer March 2, 2006)

If we assume that few of the dropouts would have broken 1000, then, as a rule of thumb, we can divide by two. Thus, only about seven or eight percent of the students who start 9th grade in the LAUSD will break 1000.

For all Los Angeles County public high school freshmen, only about ten percent will exceed 1000 by the time they leave high school.

What about private school students? Do they lighten this dismal picture? The Council for American Private Education reported that at the national level:

“Combined scores for public schools, religious schools, and independent schools were, respectively, 1012, 1057, and 1119.”

Students in religious and independents schools, however, make up less than nine percent of all LA County ninth-graders. So even adding them in, it’s unlikely that much more than 16 percent of all freshmen in America’s most populous county will ultimately break 1000.

It’s time for our elites to face up to the fact: millions of young people just aren’t all that bright by the standards of the upper middle class. Passing laws based on the assumption that we live in Lake Wobegon where all the children are above average just makes life worse for kids on the left half of the bell curve.

Duke Helfand wrote an important investigative report in the Los Angeles Times last Jan. 30, 2006 entitled A Formula for Failure in LA’s Schools:

“When the Los Angeles Board of Education approved tougher graduation requirements that went into effect in 2003, the intention was to give kids a better education and groom more graduates for college and high-level jobs.For the first time, students had to pass a year of algebra and a year of geometry or an equivalent class to earn diplomas.

(I wonder how many members of the Board of Education can pass an algebra test?)

“The policy was born of a worthy goal but has proved disastrous for students unprepared to meet the new demands.

“In the fall of 2004, 48,000 ninth-graders took beginning algebra; 44% flunked, nearly twice the failure rate as in English. Seventeen percent finished with Ds… Among those who repeated the class in the spring, nearly three-quarters flunked again.

“The school district could have seen this coming if officials had looked at the huge numbers of high school students failing basic math.

(Yes, but looking up numbers would have been “insensitive”—and that’s the gravest sin these days. Better to make hundreds of thousands of people go through life without a high school degree than publicly to notice that some people aren’t as smart as others.)

“Lawmakers in Sacramento didn’t ask questions either. After Los Angeles Unified changed its policy, legislators turned algebra into a statewide graduation requirement,effective in 2004.

“Now the Los Angeles school board has raised the bar again. By the time today’s second-graders graduate from high school in 2016, most will have to meet the University of California’s entry requirements, which will mean passing a third year of advanced math, such as algebra II …”

(Oh, great! Algebra II!)

By law, admission to the University of California is reserved for the top 1/8th of California high school students, as measured by test scores and grade point average. Yet the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) is now on course to deny a diploma to the bulk of itsstudents simply because they aren’t bright enough to master Algebra II.

So, the decent kids who show up for class won’t have a credential to distinguish themselves with prospective employers from the juvenile delinquents and the goof-off dropouts.

A large fraction of LA high school students should be working on finally mastering fractions and percentages, skills they’ll actually use in their careers—not banging their heads against the Algebra II wall of abstraction until they drop out.

One last thought: Why do President Bush and most of the political and media establishments want to nationalize Los Angeles’ problems by increasing America’s intake of unskilled laborers?

Los Angeles is a generation ahead of the rest of the country in thisexperiment. And the outcome is clear in the test scores: radically increased inequality.

Why turn the rest of the country into Los Angeles—without the sunshine?

[Steve Sailer [email him] is founder of the Human Biodiversity Institute and movie critic for The American Conservative. His website features his daily blog.]

(Republished from by permission of author or representative)
• Category: Ideology • Tags: Public Schools, VDare Archives 
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Last week saw two events exemplifying the vast contradiction between how the American upper middle class views IQ and schooling in public—and what it actually thinks in private.

The widely-reviled heretic Charles Murray published three essays in the Wall Street Journal on how we are kidding ourselves about schooling(“Half of all children are below average in intelligence, and teachers can do only so much for them”), college (“Too many Americans are going to college”), and the wisdom of the elite(“Those with superior intelligence need to learn to be wise”), and was … widely reviled for his heresy.

Meanwhile, the bourgeois parents of liberal Los Angeles were in a frenzy as last Friday’s deadline for postmarking applications for magnet public schools bore down upon them.

Bob Sipchen wrote in the Los Angeles Times:

“Negligent Los Angeles parents take note: You have only until Friday to get a postmark on the magnet school application that your more responsible peers regard—rightly or wrongly—as their last desperate hope for getting their children a good education at taxpayer expense… It goes without saying that you’re terrified of the local middle school, which you just assume has lousytest scores because of those tough-looking kids you see hanging out in front, presumably spreading graffiti, smack and STDs.” [How to make it to a magnet By Bob Sipchen (Monday's Column, Jan. 15, 2007)]

For example, the Sherman Oaks Center for Enriched Studies (SOCES)received 2939 applications last year for its 192 openings. That seven percent acceptance rate is lower than Harvard’s.

The LA Times ran daily updates of the Ask a Magnet Yentaadvice column by Sandra Tsing Loh on how to manipulate the magnet system to avoid having to send your kid to either a normal public school or a private school that can run up to $27,000.

“Actually, now that there are so many Democrats in private school, the preferred term is ‘independent” school,’” acidly notes Loh, who may be the only conservative performance artist in America, in her hilarious Scandalously Informal Guide to Los Angeles Schools.”

Why does what Loh calls the “Prius-driving screenwriter” class find magnets so magnetically attractive? Some magnets have admissions requirements (such as, in a couple of cases, scoring at the 99.9th percentile on the Wechsler IQ test), but most magnets in the LosAngeles Unified School District (LAUSD) choose students solely through lotteries. Yet many boast significantly higher test scores, up to 60 percentiles above the normal open enrollment public school in the same neighborhood.

It would be nice if the magnets had discovered some magic formula for making children brighter. But, in reality, they typically succeed by attracting smarter, more diligent parents, who tend to have smarter, more diligent children. Notably, the better magnets tend to have higher percentages of whites and Asians than are found in the overall LAUSD—the country’s second largest district, where whites make up only nine percent and Asians six percent of total students.

The court order setting up the LA magnet system in 1977 established a quota of 40 percent for white students. But far fewer white kids now remain in LAUSD. So, in an amusing example of “reverse-reverse discrimination”, it’s sometimes easier for whites to get into a fashionable magnet than for the much more numerous minorities. Further boosting the desirability of magnets, Asians, who are so oftenindefatigable in finding the best free schools for their kids, are legally considered a minority in magnets (unlike in college admissions, where they are normally defined as part of the majority). So many magnets have only a limited number of Hispanics and blacks.

And that’s definitely okay with LA’s liberal upper middle class. They may talk a good game about the benefits of diversity, but they ignore their oft-proclaimed principles when it comes to what their own children’s peer group will look like.

As Loh notes, at the hilltop “independent” school where her Prius-driving screenwriter friend who couldn’t get his kids into a magnet spends $38,000 annually to educate his six-year-old twins, they “honor diversity among the foliage”. And yet

“To judge by the student population there, L.A. “diversity” looks like 14 white kids and Savion Glover. 10 white kids and 5 brown kids is “urban”, 5 white kids and 10 brown kids looks, well, not safe”.

So, what’s the magnet schools’ secret for keeping away uninvolved and unintelligent parents?

Simple: LAUSD makes the magnet application process dauntingly confusing. As Sipchen wrote in the LA Times:

“There is an element of self-selection that gives magnets an advantage. If Juanita-Jane’s mom goes through the psychic pain of cracking the application process, is she going to let her daughter mess up? And if parents are doing their bit to keep their kids in line academically, is it any wonder that the best teachers apply to these programs and arrive at work with a good attitude?”

The most baffling aspect of the magnet system is that it pays for your child to first be rejected for several years. That’s the prime way for your child to build up the requisite “magnet points” to move to the head of the line in the lottery when you really want to get the little dear into a magnet.

Are the Prius-driving screenwriters’ stereotypes about non-magnet public schools in LA correct?

Recently, reams of test score data about public school students have become available. Unfortunately, there are so many different tests across the country that the scores are difficult for the public to interpret.

For example, the LAUSD reports that Jefferson High in Los Angeles has an API of 482. But what does that mean? Is 482 high or low? Parents of prospective students desperately want to know, but education officials aren’t in any hurry for you to get a good grasp of what that score means.

Fortunately, I finally found a database that reports, for each of the 379 public high schools serving the ten million people of Los Angeles County, the average score on a test widely understood by Americans—the venerable SAT college admissions test.

These high school SAT scores have important implications for public policy. For example, in several states where racial preferences in college admissions have been challenged by referenda or by the courts, the legislature adopted plans guaranteeing spots in the state’suniversity system to anyone whose grade point average ranked in his school’s top twenty percent (Florida), ten percent (Texas), or four percent (California)…no matter how low his SAT or ACT scores.

Are all these students likely to thrive at state universities? Or will many find themselves floundering in a school where the pace of instruction is too fast for them?

And what do these SAT scores by high school say about the No Child Left Behind act?

Finally, what do the students of Los Angeles County portend for thefuture of America, which is being transformed by public policy into something that increasingly looks like LA writ large?

I’ll review these data in detail next week.

[Steve Sailer [email him] is founder of the Human Biodiversity Institute and movie critic for The American Conservative. His website features his daily blog.]

(Republished from by permission of author or representative)
• Category: Ideology • Tags: Public Schools, VDare Archives 
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Within the claustrophobic limitations imposed by its title phrase, the new book No Excuses: Closing the Racial Gap in Learning, by conservative Harvard historian Stephan Thernstrom and his wife, Manhattan Institute think-tanker Abigail, contains much to praise. Itoffers detailed documentation of the size of the racial gap in school performance and of all the failed attempts to close it.

As the Thernstroms summarize starkly:

“… 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 onlya 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.”

Naturally, the Conservative Establishment has duly been lavishing that praise. (Here are raves by Peter Kirsanow, Mona Charen, Thomas Sowell, Rich Lowry, and Clint Bolick.) But no one will dare explain what’s fundamentally wrong with the book – except VDARE.COM and me. So I’m going to focus on why the Thernstroms’ glass is half empty.

First, though, may I register a quiet scream of frustration about the new politically-correct way to color charts depicting data by race?

There are 48 charts in No Excuses. Most of them are black and white bar charts, listing test scores by ethnicity. When their bar charts display three ethnic groups, the Thernstroms use (follow me closely here):

  • A black bar for whites,
  • A gray bar for blacks, and
  • A white bar for Hispanics.

You have to keep glancing at the key to make sense of the chart.

Apparently, the modern, sensitive chart maker can’t be caught dead implying that there’s any truth to the discredited old stereotype that blacks are, well, blacker than whites. But won’t somebody take pity on the poor reader?

[We now return to your regularly scheduled review.]

Why does this racial learning gap exist?

The Thernstroms’ basic argument is (to put it more bluntly than they would): black and Hispanic students ain’t dumb—they’re just lazy.

Of course, it does seem likely that how much time you spend on homework affects your achievement scores. But the Thernstroms run into a surprising amount of frustration looking for evidence that’s why blacks and Hispanics lag. Thus, they admit:

“Indeed, in all three grades (fourth, eighth, and twelfth) the proportion of black and Hispanic students spending an hour or more a day on homework is slightly higher than for whites.”

The Thernstroms’ excuse: black kids watch a huge amount of television. So presumably they are more likely to have the TV on while they are doing their homework.

Maybe. But there’s a much simpler explanation for why white kids spend no more time on their homework than black and Hispanic kids, yet score vastly higher on achievement tests: because they are, on average, according to every one of the hundreds of IQ studies, smarter.

The Thernstroms don’t want to touch that tar baby with a ten-foot pole. “The racial gap is not an IQ story; this is not a book about innate intelligence,” they assert on p. 4. They never return to provide any evidence to back up this audacious claim.

In fact, on pp. 130-132 (no doubt beyond where most reviewers read) the Thernstroms actually prove it is largely “an IQ story.” They write:

“The racial gap in academic achievement appears very early in life—a fact that we have not touched upon in earlier chapters… But clear racial differences in intellectualdevelopment are evident by the time children first setfoot in school… For example, black five- and six-year olds in the Children of the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth … scored a full standard deviation below their white peers on the Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test, a standard gauge of intellectual development for children before the age at which they can read… [O]nly one-sixth of AfricanAmericans performed as well as or better than theaverage white child.”

The Peabody is simply a specialized verbal IQ test for the very young. It’s scored on the same mean = 100 and standard deviation = 15 scale as better-known IQ tests like the Wechsler, which the Peabody correlates with. And—no surprise—it shows that, among preschoolers, there exists the same one standard deviation, 15-point white-black average gap found in IQ among adults.

And what about the new minority imported by government policy since we all started worrying about blacks—Hispanics?

Amusingly, for a book entitled No Excuses, the Thernstroms’ chapter on Hispanics is mainly devoted to an excuse for the four-grade gapbetween whites and Hispanics: immigrant status. They write:

“Thus, the average NAEP scores for Hispanics are about as low as those for blacks, but only because the presence of so many low-scoring immigrant children pulls them down.”

The Thernstroms add that, on the 1992 NAEP, “Latino immigrant children lag behind those who are second-generation or more by an average of … at least a full grade—on each test.”

The obvious conclusion: shutting down immigration would have an excellent effect on Hispanic academic performance. And indeed, theThernstroms imply that immigration restriction would help. They approvingly cite a 1980 study that:

“… sounded a prescient note of caution about the possibleimpact of immigration … Those Mexicans who wereassimilating to the broader culture would be ‘replaced by immigrants who bring in the traditional values and characteristics.’ In particular, the authors warned, a big jump in the number of immigrants with very little schooling by American standards would pose major problems for the schools that had to educate theirchildren. That very big jump has occurred.”

Yet, the Thernstroms never follow up the obvious implication: that the surest way to improve Hispanic performance would be to sharply cutback on immigration.

Further, there’s a disturbing aspect that the Thernstroms try to gloss over. How well can we expect the American-born children andgrandchildren of these Hispanic immigrants to do?

Unfortunately, the Thernstroms don’t tell us exactly how large the gap is between whites and American-born Hispanics. So let’s do somerough math. We know the average gap for all Hispanics, immigrant and non-immigrant, is four grades. Let’s say those born in America score 1.4 grades better than immigrants—a generous reading of the Thernstroms’ hint above about immigrants lagging “at least a fullgrade.” And let’s say half of Hispanics are immigrants and half are American-born. Then, the American-born Hispanics would still trail whites by 3.3 grade levels.

That would be equal to two-thirds of the notorious white-black gap.

This estimate tracks with most everything else we know about Hispanics. The white-Hispanic gap has been studied far less than thewhite-black gap, but it looks to be substantial. For example, the gap between whites and Mexican-Americans on the SAT is 77 percent of the size of the gap between whites and blacks. (See page 11 of this 820k PDF.)

On the SAT’s competitor, the ACT, the white-Mexican gap is 71 percent of the white-black gap. (It’s 56 percent for other Hispanics.)

IQ? The huge NSLY study run by the U.S. military, which formed the basis for The Bell Curve, found Latinos scored 14 points below whites, or 77 percent of the white-black IQ gap.

Nearly two decades earlier, the 1965 Coleman report found a 13-point white-Hispanic IQ gap.

IQ reports from Latin America are not encouraging either—RichardLynn and Tatu Vanhanen in their important book “IQ and the Wealth of Nations” found, on a scale with white Americans as 100, scores like: Mexico, 87; Ecuador, 80; Peru 90; Puerto Rico, 84; Guatemala, 79;Argentina, 96; Uruguay, 96. (Read my review for all the caveats and implications.)

Of course, it would be nice to close the racial gap in academic achievement. But nobody has any idea how to do it.

And that’s true for the Thernstroms too. They excitedly report some anecdotal evidence about a few high performing charter schools. But even their anecdotes are less impressive the more you look. Their favorite example: a high-achieving fifth grade class for gifted students at an LA school taught by Rafe Esquith. But the class turns out to be half Korean!

South Korea has the second highest average IQ in the world (more than a half-standard deviation above the American average). Its citizens have the longest work-weeks in the world. South Koreanstudents typically score at the top of the world in international achievement tests.

So Mr. Esquith gets gifted Koreans to work hard and smart. Wow!

Pollyannaish books like No Excuses encourage destructive policies. The reality is that we don’t live in Lake Wobegon where all the children are above average. There will always be people who are below average. We need policies that will allow them to live decent, productive, law-abiding, and self-respecting lives. I outlined some ideas for this in my five-part VDARE.COM series How to Help the Left Half of the Bell Curve.”

Our society suffers from the “Yale or jail” myth perpetrated by what the remarkable Milwaukee School Board member John Gardner calls the “Educartel.” We tell all American kids that if they don’t graduate from college, they are doomed. They too often take that to mean they might as well start dealing crack right now.

Gardner, in contrast, runs a program in Milwaukee connecting high school juniors with industrial apprentice programs.

Of course, there’d be more of these jobs for American youth if we stopped importing so many blue-collar workers from abroad.

And that leads to the next positive step we can take. Our schools are overstressed by students who are difficult to teach. Let’s stop importing more from the rest of the world.

Serious thinking about our racial divisions is essential. But that thinking needs to be undertaken in a scientific, not a moralistic, spirit.

[Steve Sailer [email him] is founder of the Human Biodiversity Institute and

movie critic for The American Conservative. His website features his daily blog.]

(Republished from by permission of author or representative)
• Category: Ideology • Tags: Public Schools, VDare Archives 
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Huge numbers of mothers entered the labor force over the last fewdecades. And the inflation-adjusted price of food, clothing, appliances, electronics etc. dropped sharply. So how come we don’t feel like we’ve got a lot more discretionary income than our single-income parents had?

A wise and readable new public policy book called The Two-Income Trap: Why Middle-Class Mothers and Fathers Are Going Broke provides a simple answer:

We don’t have more discretionary income than our single-income parents had.

The mother and daughter team of Harvard Law professor Elizabeth Warren and former McKinsey consultant Amelia Warren Tyagi explain:

“The average two-income family earns far more today than did the single-breadwinner family of a generation ago. And yet, once they have paid the mortgage, the carpayments, the taxes, the health insurance, and the day-care bills, today’s dual-income families have lessdiscretionary—and less money to put away for a rainy day—than the single-income family of a generation ago.”

The two authors note:

“The brunt of the price increases has fallen on familieswith children. Data from the Federal Reserve show thatthe median home value for the average childlessindividual increased by 23 percent between 1983 and 1998 … (adjusted for inflation). For married couples withchildren, however, housing prices shot up 79 percent—more than three times faster.”

For example, in August, the median price of a single-family home in pleasant, suburban Ventura County west of Los Angeles was $480,000.

Many economists shrug that this vast rise in prices increases Americans’ net worth. “But that net worth isn’t worth anything,”the two women point out , “unless a family plans to sell its home and live in a cave, because the next house the family buys would carry a similarly outrageous price tag.”

Further, this housing cost rise transfers hundreds of billions of dollars ofwealth from young families to aged empty-nesters—which probably isn’t the most sensible way to run a society if the welfare of the next generation is a high priority.

Warren and Tyagi made an impressive survey of 2200 families that declared bankruptcy. “Our study showed that married coupleswith children are more than twice as likely to file for bankruptcy as their childless counterparts,” they write. This will come as no surprise to married couples with children. Even more striking: “This year more people will declare themselves bankrupt than will suffer a heart attack.”

The biggest single cause of this growing financial stress on middle-income parents: the breakdown of much of the public educationsystem. As Warren and Tyagi note,

Even as millions of mothers marched into the workforce,savings declined, and not, as we will show, becausefamilies were frittering away their paychecks on toys for themselves or their children. Instead, families were swept up in a bidding war, competing furiously with one another for their most important possession: a house in a decent school district… “

Warren and Tyagi report: “A study conducted in Fresno … found that, for similar homes, school quality was the single mostimportant determinant of neighborhood prices …”

They go on to say:

“Bad schools impose indirect—but huge—costs on millionsof middle-class families. In their desperate rush to save their children from failing schools, families are literally spending themselves into bankruptcy.”

But what causes “bad schools”?

Here the authors play it coy. I can hardly blame them. Almost everybody uses “bad schools” as a euphemism. Who wants to become a pariah for telling the truth?

And for a book about the economics and law of personal bankruptcy,The Two-Income Trap is full of well-crafted zingers. I came away just plain liking these two ladies and their down-to-earth approach based on both formal data and the realities of daily life.

Still, euphemisms get in the way of solutions. So I’m going to rush in where W&T fear to tread. I’m going to explain exactly what Americans mean by the term “bad schools”—and the one crucial thing that can done be to slow their decline.

I’m a reductionist. I believe in simple explanations and simple solutions. The more conceptual moving parts an idea requires, the more likely it is to fail. This insight has been the basis of Western science going back to the English monk William of Ockham in the 14th Century.

If you want to read a highbrow vindication of reductionism, check out Edward O. Wilson’s Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge. Or just remember “KISS—Keep It Simple, Stupid.”

What do homebuyers mean when they say “bad schools?”Occasionally, they do have highly specific criticisms: the principal might be disorganized, the teachers unmotivated, the textbooks incomprehensible. Overwhelmingly, though, Americans use the term “bad schools” to mean—“bad students.”

That’s the single most important key to the “two-income trap.”Parents spend huge amounts of money to keep their children away from dim and dangerous fellow students.

Maybe Americans are wrong, on factual or moral grounds, to do this. But it’s how they behave.

What, then, should we do?

W&T propose a statewide voucher system. You won’t have to live in an expensive municipality to send your kids to school there. You could live in South Central LA and send your kids to school in Beverly Hills!

The problem with this idea, of course, is that Beverly Hills schools would no longer be Beverly Hills schools if they were full of students from South Central.

If we eliminated the legal right of suburbs like Beverly Hills to protect their residents’ children from bad, big city students, parents who could afford it would just flee to remote exurbs—to defend their children through sheer distance.

No, the fundamental problem with America’s schools today is the sheer number of bad students.

So let me propose one crass but extremely simple way to at least lessen the harm done in the future:

Let’s stop importing bad students from the rest of the world.

America has all the bad students it needs right now.

Let’s use the total Hispanic student population as a rough proxy for immigration to show how the government is worsening the two-income trap. Hispanic 12th graders averaged 3.8 grade levels behind whites in reading on the 2002 National Assessment of Educational Progress test. (Blacks were about another grade back.) And that’s even though the Hispanic figure is skewed upward by the higher Latino dropout rate—12th graders who aren’t in school don’t get tested.

The new SAT results paint a very similar picture. Over the last decade, white students’ scores are up 26 points (that would be about 0.12 standard deviations) to 1063. Asians—who are, in effect, more carefully selected immigrants—are up an impressive 41 points to 1083.(These aren’t huge improvements, and most of the gains are in Math rather than Verbal, but they’re better than a sharp stick in the eye.)

Some Hispanics are improving too. The small Puerto Rican group, which did most of its immigrating to America one or two generations ago, is up 26 to 909. But that’s still only 85% of the white average.

And the trend among the two recent immigrant Hispanic groups is in the wrong direction. Mexican-Americans are down 5 to 905. “Other Hispanics” are down 2 to 921. (See page 11 of this 820k PDF. All these scores, whether from 1993 or 2003, use the easier scoring system introduced in 1995.)

Since blacks were up 7 points to 857, the gap between whites andMexican-Americans is now over three-quarters as large (77%) as the notorious gap between whites and blacks.

The government is importing uneducated foreigners into America—andthe middle class is driving itself to the brink of bankruptcy to keep its children away from them.

To the tally for America’s post-1965 Immigration Disaster, we can add the Bad School Squeeze—and the Great Middle Class Massacre.

[Steve Sailer [email him] is founder of the Human Biodiversity Institute and

movie critic for The American Conservative. His website features his daily blog.]

(Republished from by permission of author or representative)
• Category: Economics • Tags: Public Schools, VDare Archives 
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You seldom find Caltech grads teaching at tough urban high schools. But for twelve years, Scott Phelps has fought the good fight at Muir High in Pasadena, California, where only 20% of eleventh graders score above the national average on the SAT-9 science test. “He is one of the few teachers I believe went to school every day forsomething other than a paycheck,” said Aundre Mathews, a recent graduate who took science from Phelps.

Today, though, Scott Phelps is suspended and in danger of losing his job. His crime: distributing—to his fellow-teachers—a closely-reasoned analysis of why Muir’s SAT-9 test scores were likely to fall next year.That matters to the teachers because it could cost them the bonuses California gives when public schools meet goals for rising scores. In 2001, the state handed out $350 million.

Phelps later explained to Marie Leech of the Pasadena Star-News(October 22 2002) that Muir’s scores will decline next year because the ninth and 11th grade classes consist primarily of low socio-economic class African-Americans.

Apparently, the racial mix of Muir’s incoming students changes from year to year. Currently, whites and Asians make up 10%; African-Americans half; the rest is Hispanic. Phelps later recounted to an LA radio station that he was sick of bureaucrats from the PasadenaUnified School District “bashing” teachers for the low scores of Muir’s African-American half. They lack academic focus, he says, and historically haven’t done well on tests. He argued that ignoring the obvious wasn’t going to help these students.

Phelps told the talk show host that he didn’t believe in genetic explanations for poor black performance. He felt the cause was cultural.

“Different cultures have different behaviors, but if we’re going to be holding all kids responsible [for meeting the same standard], then we need to be talking about their cultural behavior.”

In his analysis for his fellow teachers, Phelps vividly described what he’s seen over the last dozen years at Muir:

“Overwhelmingly, the students whose behavior makes the hallways deafening, who yell out for the teacher and demand immediate attention in class, who cannot seem to stop chatting and are fascinated by each other and relationships but not with academics … are African-American. Class is something they do between the passing periods, lunch or nutrition break, when they chase each other in the hallways, into classrooms, yelling at the top of their lungs… Eventually, someone in power will have the courage to say this publicly.”

Of course, Phelps also pointed out that there are numerous goodAfrican-American students, especially those from two-parent families.

As Phelps wrote in defending himself against hyperventilating schooladministrators:

“I notice that our African-American and, alternately, our low socio-economic groups at Muir, scores right around the 30th percentile. Our white kids score near the 70thpercentile. Now I am a racist because I notice this andhave the audacity to also notice the vastly differentbehaviors of these two groups?”

He told the Los Angeles Times:

“My intent was to get the district to stop blaming teachers or holding them solely responsible for performance…Different ethnicities are radically different…. I’m saying the behaviors are radically different, so we need to look at that. Nothing I said is false.”

He’s right. Absolutely none of this should come as any surprise toanybody. It’s standard even in liberal journals. Here, for instance, is an article from Teacher Magazine about the huge behavioral gaps at ultra-liberal Berkeley H.S. between whites and Asians on the one hand and, on the other, blacks and (to a slightly lesser extent) Hispanics.

But the powers that be in Pasadena were shocked, shocked by Phelps’observations. As the Star-News reported:

“[D]istrict officials say Phelps’ comments have created a hostile environment on the Muir campus and now they want a community meeting dealing with race issues. ‘We need a public dialogue about diversity,’ said Superintendent Percy Clark. ‘We must be tolerant and understanding of our differences. Diversity should be our asset.”

Phelps agrees about dialogue. He says “We need to talk about why thebehavior [of different groups] are so different.” Of course, true open inquiry is exactly the opposite of what Superintendent Clark has in mind. He’s thinking more along the lines of a Cultural Revolution-style “self-criticism” brow-beating session to insure that nobody everspeaks up again.

Incredibly, according to the Star-News, Pasadena civil rights attorney Bert Voorhees, a former NAACP leader, said Phelps should be fired from the district:

“‘There are few things short of molesting a child thatshould be taken as seriously as making racist comments in a school setting,’ he said.”

Hmm. Isn’t freedom of speech something “civil rights attorneys” are supposed to support?

As always, Phelps is getting popular support. He says his telephone answering machine is full of calls from teachers thanking him for saying out loud what they’d always wanted to say but never had the courage.

Reporter Leech found some killer quotes in support of Phelps in her excellent second article:

“Former educator Wilma Thomas-Simon, 72, said Phelps only told the truth. African American herself, Thomas-Simon knows first-hand how disruptive black students are, she said. ‘A white man took a stand and told the truth,’ she said. ‘And I’d like to see a community meeting called and see how many people come out for it—they won’t come. I’m glad he said what he said, I’m just sorry I didn’t say it.’”

Young Aundre Mathews, who is black, told the Star-News,

“‘What he is saying is the truth, it’s just that nobody wants to hear it. Most of the students at the school care more about fashion and relationships than they do about academics, making it difficult for the few students who actually take school seriously and want an education,’ Mathews said. ‘Walking down the hallway is like being on Romper Room. [Administrators] didn’t hear the message [Phelps] was trying to make, instead they took it at face value and played the race card.’”

This brouhaha is an outcome of two contradictory trends in American society:

1) The backlash against realistic thinking about intelligence that resulted from the The Bell Curve wars of 1994;

2) The enormous expansion of “high stakes” testing in schools over the last decade.

As school test results have become abundant, the race gap analyzed by The Bell Curve has become ever more visible. I’ve read at least a dozen almost identical newspaper articles each trying to grapple with why black and Hispanic students in super-sensitive elite communities such as Berkeley, CA and Shaker Heights, OH (here’s a second article on that Cleveland suburb) lag behind their white and Asian classmates.

Indeed, these two towns and thirteen other wealthy liberal communities such as Cambridge, MA, Madison, WI, and Ann Arbor, MIhave formed the Minority Student Achievement Network to investigatethis problem.

I wish them luck.

Politicians have been devising test-reward-punish systems that are often based, not only on the assumption that there are no racedifferences in intelligence, but also that there are no important individual differences in intelligence at all. As in Lake Wobegon, all students are assumed to be above-average performers—if only they didn’t have bad teachers dragging them down.

This has led to some unintended comedy. States are just now waking up to the realization that, under the laws they passed in the late1990s, they must deny high school diplomas to the 10% or 20% or 30% of their students who faithfully come to school for four years but who are simply too unintelligent to master what the median student learns.

Obviously, in this enlightened society, the states aren’t going to do that. Education Week reported last December,

“As states edge toward their deadlines for denying students diplomas based on state tests, many have blinked, either postponing the day of reckoning or modifying their original plans.”

Phelps is right on this too: Building bonus and penalty systems forteachers that assume complete equality of talent unfairly victimizes good teachers with bad students.

Teachers should be evaluated on how much value they add to their students’ native ability. But these policies encourage bright teachers to get the heck out of schools with dumb kids and into schools with bright kids, so they can cash in. This exacerbates the inevitable tendency for kids at inner city schools to be taught by teachers who are there only because they themselves are too dumb to get jobs at suburbanschools.

Bottom line: Policies built on self-evidently wrong ideas about humanity end up hurting the children they were supposed to help. And their teachers.

No surprise – except to school administrators and other politicians.

[Steve Sailer [email him] is founder of the Human Biodiversity Institute and

movie critic for The American Conservative. His website features his daily blog.]

(Republished from by permission of author or representative)
• Category: Race/Ethnicity • Tags: Public Schools, VDare Archives 
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Steve Sailer
About Steve Sailer

Steve Sailer is a journalist, movie critic for Taki's Magazine, columnist, and founder of the Human Biodiversity discussion group for top scientists and public intellectuals.

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