The Asian advantage

Why do Asian-Americans do so well in school? asks Nicholas Kristof in a New York Times column. What’s the “Asian advantage?”

It’s not IQ, writes Brooks, citing Richard Nisbett’s book about intelligence.

Columbia University’s commencement in 2005. Photo: Peter Turnley, Corbis

Columbia University’s commencement in 2005. Photo: Peter Turnley, Corbis

Chinese-American and white children with the same IQ scores were followed into adulthood by researchers. Fifty-five percent of the Chinese-Americans entered high-status occupations, compared with one-third of the whites, Nisbett writes. Chinese-Americans with a 93 IQ did as well as whites with a 100.

In The Asian American Achievement Paradox, Jennifer Lee and Min Zhou note that many recent Asian immigrants are educated professionals. But working-class Asian-Americans tend to do well in school too. That’s certainly true of the children of the Vietnamese boat people.

The “model minority” may be a myth, but Asian kids walk into a math or science classroom knowing their teachers will expect them to excel.

Kristof credits the Confucian emphasis on education.

Immigrant East Asians often try particularly hard to get into good school districts, or make other sacrifices for children’s education, such as giving prime space in the home to kids to study.

There’s also evidence that Americans believe that A’s go to smart kids, while Asians are more likely to think that they go to hard workers.

Asian-American parents have high expectations for their children. A B is an “Asian F,” kids joke. (Kristof says A-, but I think that’s extreme.) And a B is “a white A.”

Asian-Americans also are likely to grow up in two-parent families.

“The success of Asian-Americans is a tribute to hard work, strong families and passion for education,” he concludes. “Ditto for the success of Jews, West Indians and other groups.”

But their success does not “suggest that the age of discrimination is behind us,” he argues. The “black boy in Baltimore who is raised by a struggling single mom, whom society regards as a potential menace” will not be reassured by the success of Asian-Americans. “Because one group can access the American dream does not mean that all groups can.”

Shouldn’t that kid be reassured by the success of West Indian blacks?

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.

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.

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.

Dumb and dumber

People are getting dumber, according to a new study, reports the Huffington PostWesterners have lost 14 IQ points since the Victorian era, say Dutch psychologists.

Women of high intelligence have fewer children on average than less-intelligent women, said study co-author Jan te Nijenhuis, a University of Amsterdam professor.

Dr. te Nijenhuis and colleagues . . .  analyzed the results of 14 intelligence studies conducted between 1884 to 2004, including one by Sir Francis Galton, an English anthropologist and a cousin of Charles Darwin. Each study gauged participants’ so-called visual reaction times — how long it took them to press a button in response to seeing a stimulus. Reaction time reflects a person’s mental processing speed, and so is considered an indication of general intelligence.

In the late 19th Century, visual reaction times averaged around 194 milliseconds, the analysis showed. In 2004 that time had grown to 275 milliseconds.

U.S. IQ scores rose by three points from the 1930s to the 1980s in what’s known as the Flynn Effect, notes the Daily Mail. Scores also rose in Japan and Europe. Improved education, nutrition and living conditions explain the rise, says James Flynn of the University of Otago, after whom the effect is named.

Some believe the Flynn effect has masked a decline in the genetic basis for intelligence, so that while more people have been reaching their full potential, that potential itself has been declining.

Richard Lynn, a psychologist at the University of Ulster, believes average IQs around the world declined by one point from 1950 to 2000 and could fall another 1.3 points by 2050.

British 14-year-olds’ IQ scores declined by more than two points from 1980 to 2008, Flynn found. The drop was six points for teens in the upper half of the intelligence scale. “Youth culture is more visually orientated around computer games than they are in terms of reading and holding conversations.”

The movie Idiocracy starts with an explanation for declining intelligence in a society that’s lost natural predators.

Stupid question on smart atheists

An Ohio State psychology quiz tells students that smart people probably are atheists:

Theo has an IQ of 100 and Aine has an IQ of 125.

Which of the following statements would you expect to be true?

• Aine is an atheist, while Theo is a Christian. 

• Aine earns less money than Theo.

• Theo is more liberal than Aine.

• Theo is an atheist, while Aine is a Christian.

“Every group is protected from offensive speech on campus except for conservative Christians,” University of North Carolina Professor Mike Adams told Campus Reform. “So would it be permissible to force blacks to take a class teaching that blacks would have a lower IQ than white people?” he asked.

All four answers are false, writes Jim Lindgren on the Washington Post‘s Volokh blog. “Even if atheists score 3-4 points higher on IQ tests than Christians, there are so many more Christians in the population that it is much more likely that someone with a 125 IQ score is a Christian than that such a person is an atheist.”

On an IQ-derived analogies test,  8 percent of those with a score corresponding to a 125 IQ were atheists, he writes, while 83 percent were Christians.

Ohio States probably doesn’t teach students that Jews score 13.2 points higher on IQ tests than atheists. (Muslims score the lowest, but it’s a small sample size.) Republicans score slightly higher than Democrats. Oh, and Ohioans score lower than Iowans.

Are you smart enough for kindergarten?

Are You Smart Enough to Get Into Private Kindergarten? asks Some of New York City’s most elite private schools will require four-year-olds to take a new, harder admissions test.

ERB‘s Admission Assessment for Beginning Learners  (AABL) costs $65, rather than $568 for the old test, because the new test doesn’t require a trained examiner. Kids take it on an iPad. But “experts believe many parents will shell out even more on classes and books to prepare their toddlers.”

“The AABL is supposed to identify a child’s ability and achievement,” said Emily Glickman, president of Abacus Guide Educational Consulting. Achievement for preschoolers? That’s “totally new,” she says.

Here are five sample questions from the test. All seem to be measuring intelligence rather than knowledge. I got 100 percent — but one answer (see below) was a 50-50 guess. I still don’t know why my answer was correct. If I’d seen this when I was four . . .

Which completes the pattern?


Smarter than thou

The average American believes he or she is smarter than the average American, according to a YouGov survey. Fifty-five percent say they’re more intelligent than average, 34 percent say they’re about as smart and only 4 percent believe they’re less intelligent than average Americans.

SAT (and IQ) scores predict success

The SAT should be “abandoned and replaced,” argues Leon Botstein, former president of Bard, in Time.

Look at “the complex portrait” of college applicants’ lives rather than their test scores, writes Jennifer Finney Boylan in the New York Times.

The test measures only SAT-taking skills, adds Elizabeth Kolbert in the New Yorker.

Actually, the SAT predicts success in college “relatively well,” write David Z. Hambrick and Christopher Chabris, both psychology professors, in  Slate. It takes a few hours to administer and, unlike complex portraits, it can be scored in an objective way. 

SAT scores correlate very highly with IQ scores, they write. Harvard’s Howard Gardner, known for his theory of multiple intelligences, called the SAT and other measures “thinly disguised” intelligence tests.

A popular anti-SAT argument is that the test measures socioeconomic status rather than cognitive skill.

Boylan argued in her Times article that the SAT “favors the rich, who can afford preparatory crash courses” like those offered by Kaplan and the Princeton Review. Leon Botstein claimed in his Time article that “the only persistent statistical result from the SAT is the correlation between high income and high test scores.” And according to a Washington Post Wonkblog infographic (which is really more of a disinfographic) “your SAT score says more about your parents than about you.”

Test prep doesn’t make a big difference, write Hambrick and Chabris. And research shows a significant but “not huge” correlation between socioeconomic status and test scores. Plenty of low-income kids score well.

. .  .as it was originally designed to do, the SAT in fact goes a long way toward leveling the playing field, giving students an opportunity to distinguish themselves regardless of their background. Scoring well on the SAT may in fact be the only such opportunity for students who graduate from public high schools that are regarded by college admissions offices as academically weak.

“One person’s obstacle is another person’s springboard,” Dawn Harris Sherling wrote in response to Kolbert.

I am the daughter of a single, immigrant father who never attended college, and a good SAT score was one of the achievements that catapulted me into my state’s flagship university and, from there, on to medical school. Flawed though it is, the SAT afforded me, as it has thousands of others, a way to prove that a poor, public-school kid who never had any test prep can do just as well as, if not better than, her better-off peers.

Botstein advocates adjusting high school GPA “to account for the curriculum and academic programs in the high school from which a student graduates” and abandoning the SAT, note Hambrick and Chabris. “A given high school GPA would be adjusted down for a poor, public-school kid, and adjusted up for a rich, private-school kid.”

A commenter responds: “The idea that standardized tests and ‘general intelligence’ are meaningless is wishful thinking.  People find it cruel that something essentially beyond your control—intrinsic intelligence—could matter so much.  But it does.”

Another commenter writes: “It’s like trying to argue that looks are meaningless.  Yeah, it sucks for most of us, but doesn’t mean it’s not true.”

The rich get richer — and smarter

Rich kids are widening the achievement gap, leaving middle class kids, not just the poor, farther behind, writes Sean Reardon, a Stanford education and sociology professor.

High-income families are increasingly focusing their resources — their money, time and knowledge of what it takes to be successful in school — on their children’s cognitive development and educational success. They are doing this because educational success is much more important than it used to be, even for the rich.

Is it intensive parenting? asks Megan McArdle in The Daily Beast.  All the people who are really good at school are marrying the other people who are really good at school (and) having children who are really, really good at school.

The rich pulling away from the middle class is also exactly what we would see if test-taking ability has a substantial inherited component, and the American economy is increasingly selecting for people who are very, very good at taking tests.

A fan of the Little House on the Prairie books, McArdle recently reread Those Happy Golden Years in which Laura Ingalls meets and marries Almanzo Wilder. While Laura liked school and was good at it, ”

Almanzo hated it” and quit as soon as he could. “

There’s no evidence that he reads or otherwise occupies himself with intellectual pursuits in his spare time.”

Apparently, it was a very happy marriage. Today . . .

Laura Ingalls would quite likely have gone to an elite school, and probably graduate school, then moved to a coastal city, and eventually married another bookworm.  Almanzo Wilder would be married to someone like him, a hard worker who nonetheless found school tedious and left as quickly as possible.  And when their two sets of children showed up at school, their test scores would be very different.

The educational barrier to high-paying professions tie income even more tightly to educational proficiency, she writes.

Maybe the answer is not a quixotic attempt to somehow replicate the experience of being raised by two professionals with advanced degrees. Maybe it’s to question the great educational sorting, and the barriers it has erected.

. . . every additional year of schooling we require makes it harder and harder for those who don’t enjoy school to compete in the wider world.

More women than men are going to college and earning degrees. There will be more Lauras marrying Almanzos in the future.