How schools make kids smarter

Schooling makes students smarter largely by increasing what they know,”writes cognitive scientist Daniel Willingham in The Atlantic. That includes “both factual knowledge and specific mental skills like analyzing historical documents and learning procedures in mathematics.”

Intelligence has two components. One is akin to mental horsepower—how many pieces of information a person can keep in mind simultaneously, and how efficiently that person can use it. Researchers measure this component with simple tasks like comparing the lengths of two lines as quickly as possible, or reciting a list of digits backwards.

The other component of intelligence is like a database: It entails the facts someone knows and the skills he or she has acquired—skills like reading and calculating. That’s measured with tests of vocabulary and world knowledge.

Going to school boosts IQ primarily by increasing students’ knowledge, writes Willingham. People with more schooling aren’t faster at mental judgments, research shows.  High-performing schools do little to boost kids’ mental horsepower.

It’s the knowledge, stupid

Adults remember more than they realize about subjects studied years earlier in school, writes Willingham. “Knowledge sticks if it’s revisited.”

“It’s important to get a better understanding of what content will be most valuable to students later on in their lives,” he writes, and to revisit subjects over several years to make knowledge memorable.

Does birth order matter?

Firstborns are supposed to be conscientious, agreeable — and smarter than their younger siblings, writes Ami Albernaz in the Boston Globe.  The youngest in the family is supposed to be free-spirited and outgoing.

However, personality and IQ differences associated with birth order “are so small as to have no practical impact,” according to a University of Illinois study published in the Journal of Research in Personality.

The Illinois study used data on 377,000 U.S. high school students and controlled for factors such as number of siblings, socioeconomic status, family structure, age, and gender.

Among the slight personality differences the researchers found, firstborn children were more conscientious and agreeable, and less sociable and neurotic, than later-born kids. Yet though these differences were statistically significant, they were so small as to be meaningless, the researchers wrote. Firstborns also had slightly higher IQs, but this difference — about one point — was also not enough to be perceptible.

“Parents will often say their firstborn is more responsible,” said Rodica Damian, the study’s co-author. “But unless you have a video camera and can go back to when the firstborn was the age of the second-born or lastborn, you can’t fairly compare. Your personality changes as you age.”

I was the second of four children, but raised as my 15-months-older sister’s twin. People used to ask if we were identical twins, even though she was taller. She also was smarter than me — and not just because she was older. She had more musical and artistic talent. I was the sensible one. It didn’t seem like much at the time, but it’s worked out for me. Growing up trying to compete with my sister was good training too.

If kids can’t improve, bad schools are OK

Is intelligence fixed — or can kids get smarter? The importance of a “growth mindset” applies to educators as well as students, writes Robert Maranto, 21st Century Chair in Leadership in the Department of Education Reform at the University of Arkansas.

“If you think that intelligence is a constant, then there is no point reforming schools because schools don’t matter,” he writes in the Baltimore Sun.

“Good” schools and “good” teachers either cherry picked or lucked into smart students. It’s unfair to compare schools or teachers on academic results because student learning is determined by who teachers teach, not what or how they teach.

When right-wing social scientists argue that genetics determines low academic performance, their views are marginalized, Maranto writes. But many on the left also believe some groups of children can’t learn.

I know prominent education professors who have not read any of the eight high quality scientific evaluations of the high poverty/high achievement Knowledge Is Power Program schools, nor set foot in such schools, but know that KIPP must be cheating in some way. They have no more interest in the research on KIPP than a creationist has in paleontology.

Our unwillingness to learn from success goes beyond ignoring successful charter schools. I do fieldwork in a reasonably good school district that has depressingly little success teaching its Hispanic minority; yet no one there bothers to check out a similar school district 10 miles away that has nearly eliminated its Anglo-Hispanic achievement gap. These educators believe, on the basis of no evidence, that Hispanics in the other school district differ from their Hispanics. They cannot imagine different tactics including parental outreach and after school tutoring yielding better outcomes with the same kids.

Urban superintendents aren’t more likely to keep their jobs when achievement rises, Maranto’s research found.

Yesterday, I visited a San Jose elementary school whose students — more than 80 percent are English Learners from lower-income families — excel at reading and math. It’s called Rocketship Brilliant Minds.

Teachers and students dance each day at Morning Launch.

Smarter teachers, smarter students

Should we select teacher candidates for their smarts? asks the National Council on Teacher Quality Bulletin. If so, “can we raise the bar without endangering equitable access to strong teachers or limiting diversity?”

The cognitive skills of a nation’s teachers is linked to their students’ PISA performance, conclude Eric Hanushek and two Germany-based researchers. The study tried to control for “parental cognitive skills, a country’s educational culture, differences in student aptitude” and other factors. 

It assumed places with higher public-sector salaries would draw more academically talented people to teaching. If that’s valid, then “raising average teacher cognitive skills by a standard deviation likely raises student performance in math by 20 percent of a standard deviation in math and 10 percent in reading.”

Another study suggests it’s possible to get more talented teachers into the classroom. Teachers’ academic aptitude has been rising in New York over the past 25 years, concludes a study by Hamilton Lankford and others.

In the late 1990’s, almost a third of New York’s newly certified teachers were drawn from the bottom-third of the SAT scale. Beginning in 1998, the state tightened requirements on teacher preparation programs, eliminated temporary teaching licenses (which tended to be awarded to low-scoring individuals), and allowed selective alternative routes (e.g., Teach For America and TNTP) to begin operating. By 2010, more teachers were being drawn from the top-third of the SAT distribution than any other group.

The sharpest rise came in SAT scores of new teachers at the most disadvantaged schools, especially in New York City.

Average SAT scores rose more for new black and Latino teachers than for whites and Asian-Americans. Yet the state’s teaching force become more diverse.

U.S. teachers are smarter than you think

U.S. teachers are smarter than you think, writes Jill Barshay on the Hechinger Report.

A 2010 McKinsey report spotlighted a “talent gap” in teaching. Almost half of new teachers come from the bottom third of SAT takers, said the report. By contrast, the “world’s top performing school systems draw teachers from the best and brightest.”

But new research argues that quality never dropped that low and is rebounding.  A recently published “study of new teachers in New York state . . . found that at the worst point — in 1999 — almost 30 percent of new teachers came from the bottom third, as measured by SAT scores,” and 30 percent came from the top third, writes Barshay. Ten years later, more than 40 percent of new teachers scored in the top third and fewer than 20 percent in the bottom third.

2013 University of Washington study also found rising test scores for new teachers.

A Stanford study, not yet published, estimates the average SAT/ACT scores of a new teacher declined to the 42nd percentile in 2000 and rose to the 48th percentile by 2008.

Math scores rose strongly, while verbal scores increased slightly.

Back in 1993, the typical hire at a private elementary school had SAT scores that were 4 points higher than her or his public school counterpart. By 2008, they were 5 percentage points lower. . . . Private high school teachers continue to have higher SAT scores than public high school teachers.

It’s not clear why public schools have been able to hire teachers with stronger academic records.

Education Realist critiques a lack of quality in teacher quality reports.

Smartphones don’t make us dumb, but …

Smartphones Don’t Make Us Dumb, writes cognitive scientist Dan Willingham in the New York Times. Digital devices don’t even destroy our attention spans. “We can focus,” he writes. But we may not want to.”

In a 2012 Pew survey, nearly 90 percent of teachers said their students can’t pay attention the way they could a few years ago.

It may be that digital devices have not left us unable to pay attention, but have made us unwilling to do so.

The digital world carries the promise of amusement that is constant, immediate and limitless. If a YouTube video isn’t funny in the first 10 seconds, why watch when I can instantly seek something better on BuzzFeed or Spotify? The Internet hasn’t shortened my attention span, but it has fixed a persistent thought in the back of my mind: Isn’t there’s something better to do than what I’m doing?

. . . People’s performance on basic laboratory tests of attention gets worse if a cellphone is merely visible nearby. In another experiment, people using a driving simulator were more likely to hit a pedestrian when their cellphone rang, even if they had planned in advance not to answer it.

Digital devices encourage “near constant outwardly directed thought” at the expense of time for reflection, Willingham concludes. “A flat cap on time with devices — the restriction we first think of for ourselves and our kids — might help.”

Multi-tasking is a myth, writes Leah Levy on Edudemic. Beware of information overload, writes Daniel J. Levitin in the Guardian.

TV seeks ‘Child Genius’

Lifetime is premiering a new “reality” show tonight called Child Genius. Twenty boys and girls ages 8 to 12 compete to answer questions in pursuit of a $100,000 college scholarship.

In a preview, a girl spells the longest word in the English language, pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis. That’s hardly a sign of intelligence. I memorized the word in fourth grade. (I don’t know my IQ, but my fifth-grade teacher said I was an “overachiever.”)
Child Genius Season 1 Photos

The British version was called “cruel” for putting heavy pressure on children. After the finale, won by an 11-year-old girl, two boys were shown crying. And the questions favored memorization, rather than intelligence.

John Sumter, a South Carolina third grader, is one of the youngest contestants on the U.S. show. He enjoyed being with kids who get his jokes, said his mother Traci Sumter.

However, “it was very stressful” for the boy, who was eight when the show taped over the summer.

“It was kind of tough to compete against people that I made great allies with and good friendships,” John said.

 

Too stupid

Stupid people aren’t smart enough to know they’re stupid, says John Cleese of Monty Python.

The smart path

Demarquez Grissom grew up in an Atlanta neighborhood where “it was cool to be dumb.” But he figured out that was stupid by eighth grade. A teacher got him into a gifted program that led to Syracuse University.

DoE seeks equality in AP, gifted classes

Tracking students by academic performance creates a separate and unequal school system, according to the U.S. Education Department, reports Sonali Kohli in The Atlantic.

Black students to be afforded equal access to advanced, higher-level learning opportunities,” the DoE’s Office of Civil Rights proclaimed in announcing an agreement with a New Jersey school district, South Orange Maplewood.

Proponents of tracking and of ability-grouping (a milder version that separates students within the same classroom based on ability) say that the practices allow students to learn at their own levels and prevent a difficult situation for teachers: large classes where children with a wide range of different needs and skill levels are mixed together. In many districts, the higher-level instruction in “gifted and talented” or advanced placement (AP) classes is what keeps wealthier families from entirely abandoning the public school system.

But . . . many education researchers have argued that tracking perpetuates class inequality, and is partially to blame for the stubborn achievement gap in the US educational system.

South Orange Maplewood in New Jersey will hire a consultant to examine why more whites than blacks are in advanced courses as part of a resolution agreement with the DoE.

In California’s Elk Grove Unified, 16 percent of students are black, but only 6 percent of gifted and talented (GATE) students are black. The district entered a DoE agreement to make GATE enrollment reflect enrollment.

Notice that Asian-American students are the most over-represented in GATE classes.