Intelligence limits how well students will do in school, argues Charles Murray in Opinion Journal. Improving bad schools may turn D students into C students but it won’t equalize results for children who start with below-average brainpower.
Crime, drugs, extramarital births, unemployment — you name the problem, and I will show you a stack of claims that education is to blame, or at least implicated.
One word is missing from these discussions: intelligence. Hardly anyone will admit it, but education’s role in causing or solving any problem cannot be evaluated without considering the underlying intellectual ability of the people being educated.
. . . Today’s simple truth: Half of all children are below average in intelligence. We do not live in Lake Wobegon.
Murray seems to think that children in the 49th percentile in intelligence are limited in intelligence in a significant way and children at the 36th percentile may be incapable of mastering basic skills. You’d think the Bell Curve co-author would look at the bell curve: Most students are neither so smart that they’ll excel on their own or so slow that they can’t learn the basics. In the average bell curve, two-thirds of people fall within one standard deviation of the mean; 95 percent fall within two standard deviations. According to Murray’s research, 50 percent of white Americans fall into the 90 to 110 range and another 25 percent score higher; only 5 percent score below 70, indicating mental retardation.
The issue is not whether every child has the potential to become a mathematician, engineer, doctor, lawyer or literary scholar, but whether every child can master the K-12 curriculum. Let’s assume the kid with the IQ measured at 80 isn’t likely to do as well as the kid with the 120 IQ. Maybe there’s a significant difference in ability between a 90 IQ and a 110 IQ. We don’t know what the below-average IQ students can do till we teach them.
Education can raise IQ scores, writes Nicholas Lemann on Slate, who cites a “study by Jay Girotto and Paul Peterson of Harvard shows that students who raise their grades and take harder courses can increase their IQ scores by an average of eight points during the first three years of high school.” The Bell Curve’s statistical analysis underestimates the role of education, Lemann argues.
If we ever improve schools so much that the limiting factor to students’ progress becomes inborn intelligence we’ll be in great shape.
Update: On D-Ed Reckoning, Ken DeRosa responds to the Murray column, which is the first of three. Murray isn’t familiar with the education research, writes DeRosa.
We can get most kids, regardless of their IQ, up to a basic 8th grade literacy and numeracy level, which is about the level that is tested on the 11th grade NAEP.
Good teaching makes a difference.