Not smart enough?

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.

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Comments

  1. Walter E. Wallis says:

    It is interesting that the political left and the left side of the Bell Curve have so much in common.

  2. wmartin46 says:

    One key data point that is not released with the rather voluminous data sets on education is the IQs of those tested. This would seem to be very important item that has traditionally been ignored in the discussions and policy making issues related to public education.

  3. My understanding is that all these IQ gains made through education in the early years gets washed away by something like age 16. The important thing is that lower performers can be educated and eprform like higher performing kids with the right instruction even though no innate IQ changes are made.

  4. Wayne Martin says:

    > The important thing is that lower performers can be
    > educated and eprform like higher performing kids
    > with the right instruction even though no innate
    > IQ changes are made.

    If this were true, why aren’t America’s schools doing this now?

  5. Given the current state of the schools, Murray’s point seems irrelevant. There are certainly millions of kids who could be learning far more than they are learning now. That’s what we need to focus on: not giving the “educators” an additional excuse to continue their nonperformance.

    Murray’s article strikes me as being like someone arguing, right after the Wright Brothers, that there was no point in further development of the aircraft piston engine because it would never be able to be used for supersonic flight.

  6. Mrs. Davis says:

    It strikes me as someone arguing that there was no point in spending inordinate amounts of money designing an airframe that could withstand supersonic flight while the engine couldn’t reach that velocity.

    The real question is whether the bottom 36% are inherently incapable of mastering the material in the eighth grade curriculum. I’ll confess neither I nor many people I know are in the 36th percentile, but I do expect they could master the material if properly prepared, motivated and instructed. I would think the percentile incapable of mastering the eighth grade curriculum is closer to the 10th. Does anyone really know?

  7. If this were true, why aren’t America’s schools doing this now?

    Oh, let’s see. It’s very hard work. It requires quality control measures which is a foreign idea in most schools. There are no incentives to do the hard work. The pedagogy needed to succeed goes against the ideology of most educators. Teachers aren’t adequately trained. Plus, there’s a built in excuse: these kids were never previously educated and there’s no expectation that they can be now.

  8. Walter E. Wallis says:

    Teach up to the limit, but teach something useful, darn it!

  9. Miller Smith says:

    The I.Q. differences between the races is THE reason for the “race to the bottom” on grade level tests for NCLB. Realizing that no amount of money can get “all” student up to grade level, the states began lowering the pass scores and/or removing content from the tests. In this way-and only this way-have the gaps closed.

    One merely has to look at data from schools with children inthe same SES and who share the same classrooms with all races. An example is my school in Maryland—here is the offical state website on racial breakdown in my school and the success rates by race–http://www.mdreportcard.org/statDisplay.aspx?PV=21||16|1423|3|N|6|1|2|2|1|1|1|1|3

    These children are of the same SES. They share the same classrooms and teachers. They are fully intergrated and have been that way ALL of their school years. They live in the same neighborhoods. They go to the same malls and stores.

  10. Cardinal Fang says:

    What people like Murray and Mrs. Davis neglect is that IQs cluster around the center. Someone in the 36th percentile of IQ has an IQ of about 95. That’s very little different from average, and I’m quite sure Mrs. Davis knows plenty of people who are just a little below average in intelligence, as do we all.

  11. —What people like Murray and Mrs. Davis neglect is that IQs cluster around the center. Someone in the 36th percentile of IQ has an IQ of about 95

    Do you not know who Mr. Murray is? Of course he knows what the 36th percentile of IQ actually is. You are all quite sure that “very little different from average” indicates that the person is like you believe the “average” to be! But 5 IQ points is an enormouse difference in cognitive function, even between 100 and 106 or 95 and 100.

    —The real question is whether the bottom 36% are inherently incapable of mastering the material in the eighth grade curriculum. I’ll confess neither I nor many people I know are in the 36th percentile, but I do expect they could master the material if properly prepared, motivated and instructed.

    Based on WHAT data, precisely? Seriously–you don;t know such “slow” people, but you assume they are like you. WEll, let’s work on all of these assumptions. have you done the research? Obviously not, so stop assuming it must be doable. Instead, read Murray’s book, which makes it a bit more clear.

    — I would think the percentile incapable of mastering the eighth grade curriculum is closer to the 10th. Does anyone really know?

    You ask this like it’s impossible to know. The fact that no education dept has done the resarch again indicates what’s wrong with education departments.

    Then there’s Ms. Jacobs’ strange error:

    –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.

    That’s because it’s a *bell curve* so most students are clustered near the 50th percentile. But Murray didn’t argue this. He argue that the 26th percentile–which is FAR from where “most” students are–means you might not handle basic skills. Why the straw man? RE: the 49th percentile: what makes you think they aren’t limited? Your own claims about what you think “average” is?

    you act as if you’re upset because he’s arguing about the bottom half of the bell curve, and you jsut assume the center of it, and ignore the tails. For you, education is about the middle. How is the better than Murray, who admits the whole curve?

    — There are certainly millions of kids who could be learning far more than they are learning now.

    Again, this assumption. Based on what do you have this certainty? The data does not support your claim.

    I can’t believe the number of assumptions made here by *educators*. It becomes clear that educators aren’t in a profession. if they were, they could perhaps answer questions like : how much can the best teaching improve IQ or cognitive ability, how much a year of education can improve someone’s skills, etc. But you all have no idea. You’re sure it must be more than is done now, but you dont’ even know that the data doesn’t support that finding–read the bibliography of the Bell Curve and you’ll see. The fact is, schools have done everything they can to be innovative in teaching, and yet, and yet, the results are not changing those at the low end of the spectrum.

  12. The statement “Half of all children are below average in intelligence” makes no sense in reference to a bell curve, which shows that the majority of scores occur within a standard deviation – are very similar to one another – and that there are a small number of “outliers” for both very low and very high scores. A child in the 49th percentile is not that different from a child in the 51st, although one is technically “above” and the other “below”.

    One could just as easily say half of all children are above average in intelligence. So what’s the excuse now?

  13. The fact is, schools have done everything they can to be innovative in teaching, and yet, and yet, the results are not changing those at the low end of the spectrum.

    No they haven’t, not even close. The most successful academic interventions are installed in only about 3% of schools. Those interventions have been shown to areliably boost academic achievement by about a standard deviation on average in the K-8 level. That means that most kids who typically perform at the 20th percentile would perform like a student at the 50th percentile.

  14. Greifer, I mentioned the 49th percentile because Murray does:

    Suppose a girl in the 99th percentile of intelligence, corresponding to an IQ of 135, is getting a C in English. She is underachieving, and someone who sets out to raise her performance might be able to get a spectacular result. Now suppose the boy sitting behind her is getting a D, but his IQ is a bit below 100, at the 49th percentile.

    We can hope to raise his grade. But teaching him more vocabulary words or drilling him on the parts of speech will not open up new vistas for him. It is not within his power to learn to follow an exposition written beyond a limited level of complexity, any more than it is within my power to follow a proof in the American Journal of Mathematics. In both cases, the problem is not that we have not been taught enough, but that we are not smart enough.

    A boy with an IQ of 99 is “not smart enough” to do K-12 work? That’s ridiculous.

  15. Of course, half are below average and half are above. It’s simple arithmetic.
    But what must be taken into account are multiple intelligences which means that the same person in the 40th in math may be in the 80th in language, the 65th in visual, etc. That part isn’t simple arithmetic!

  16. Miller Smith says:

    The I.Q. debate is about differences in GROUPS, not individuals. With an I.Q. mean for blacks at 85 and at 100 for whites, it is silly to expect the GROUPS to reach the same levels on challenging wassignments/tests/work/occupations/etc.

    Murray makes it clear that habits of mind can more than make up for I.Q. One of his famous quotes is, “graduating from high school, getting and staying married, and taking a job-any job, is the best way to get out of poverty.” [best as I can remmeber his quote.]

    When the data for representation in all occupations is crunched, the distribution within occupations by race matches the I.Q. spread. That is a very good fit.

    I.Q. research and the replication of I.Q., studies is one of the most confirmed scientific findings in ALL of science. g exists.

    Social planning by government that ignors the reality of I.Q. WILL result in massive failure and even MORE racial strife. Remember this: Nature always wins.

  17. –A boy with an IQ of 99 is “not smart enough” to do K-12 work? That’s ridiculous.

    based on WHAT EVIDENCE do you say this is “ridiculous” ????

    you’re sure that 49th percentile is smart enough, but you can’t back it up. all you’ve got are impressions that you’ve met “average” kids who succeeded at actually learning that material. give some evidence that they were in the bottom half, please.

  18. It’s no surprise that Mr. Murray cites fictional Lake Wobegon.. remember this is only his opinion, not fact. In his case, it’s NPR fiction and bad math.

    But let’s play along, and apply some wisdom…

    If 1/2 of the kids are below average, then shouldn’t we be celebrating the other 1/2 that are above average, and whatever teaching successes realized? And then who does that leave in the “average” range?? No one. Hmm…. So from Mr. Murray’s suggestion, there are only “smart” kids and “dumb” kids.

    Wow, if only I had Mr. Murray’s IQ, maybe I could write in WSJ too. High assperations.

    Note to parents: Enlighten your kids – Homeschool!

Trackbacks

  1. […] People in the top 10 percent in intelligence will be the nation’s leaders in “medicine, engineering, law, the sciences and academia,” writes Charles Murray in his third and final Opinion Journal column. (Part one and part two have sparked lively debates.) He advocates a classical education for the very smart. The encouragement of wisdom requires being steeped in the study of ethics, starting with Aristotle and Confucius. It is not enough that gifted children learn to be nice. They must know what it means to be good. […]