Tag Archives: public schools

General intelligence, working memory, and how American Public Schools hurt those who need them most

Colom, R., Rebollo, I., Palacios, A., Juan-Espinosa, M., & Kyllonen, P.C. (2004). Working memory is (almost) perfectly predicted by g. Intelligence, 32(3), 277-296. doi:10.1016/j.intell.2003.12.002.

Andrew Sullivan, Ezra Klein, Half Sigma, and other bloggers of note are going around on the question of the heritability of intelligence in general, and the possibility of biological causes for the differences in general intelligence obsered in different groups. While occasionally people speak carelessly, it’s remarkable how far the Standard Social Sciences Model (SSSM) of all human differences being the result of different environments has already collapsed. There are three traditional ways to attack the notion in biologically-driven racial differences in general intelligence

  1. There is no such thing as general intelligence
  2. There are no such things are races
  3. The environmental conditions in which the races tend to exist are unequal

The first two criticism are discredited. One can deny g or ancestry in the same way that one can deny darwinian selection or the old Earth: through determined dogmatism.

The third criticism remains, if only because of the horrifying inequalities in the world today. Of course, environmental inequalities can rapidly turn into biological inequalities. One only needs to look at the Inbred Gap to know that. Yet it’s also true that one can be trained to perform better on any subset of tests that are used to measure general intelligence. Thus the Flynn Effect: this or that measure will suddenly deviate from the rest, causing illusionary growth or shrinkage in differences.

One measure that very closely approximates g (“(almost) perfectly predicts,” in the word of the paper’s excited authors) is working memory.

This article analyzes if working memory (WM) is especially important to understand g. WM comprises the functions of focusing attention, conscious rehearsal, and transformation and mental manipulation of information, while g reflects the component variance that is common to all tests of ability. The centrality of WM in individual differences in information processing leads to some cognitive theorists to equate it with g. There are several studies relating WM with psychometric abilities like reasoning, fluid intelligence, spatial visualization, spatial relations, or perceptual speed, but there are very few studies relating WM with g, defined by several diverse tests. In three studies, we assessed crystallised intelligence (Gc), spatial ability (Gv), fluid intelligence (Gf), and psychometric speed (Gs) using various tests from the psychometric literature. Moreover, we assessed WM and processing speed (PS). WM tasks involve storage requirements, plus concurrent processing. PS tasks measure the speed by which the participants take a quick decision about the identity of some stimuli; 594 participants were tested. Confirmatory factor analyses yielded consistently high estimates of the loading of g over WM (.96 on average). WM is the latent factor best predicted by g. It is proposed that this is so because the later has much in common with the main characteristic of the former.

Working memory allows you to make sense of information, so that you can remember it. It is most important in that it makes it easier to memorize things. This also explains why school appears to lower general intelligence of high-performing populations, such as Chinese: if you are in an environment where high academic achievement is socially punished, excess working memory capacity naturally atrophies. Similarly, this may explain why the heritability of g increases in life: once out of the socialized public schools, an individuals’ environment is more under his control, and an individual that enjoys tasks that involve the comprehension of complex materials will strengthen those neural connections more.

If g really is working memory, the educational implications are huge. The soft bigotry of low expectations is especially brutal to those apparently with low working memory capacity. Because working memory does not matter once a task is memorized. Memorization is the way-out of the trap of low working memory. And what’s needed for memorization is clear: practice, academic discipline, and practice. Yet who believes that fifty years after Brown v. Board of Education most majority-black schools are models of academic seriousness and discipline?

Even more tragic — if the link between general intelligence and working memory is strong — working memory is trivially easy to test. There’s no need for race-conscious policies at all to battle what may be the worst racial inequality through education. We could close much of the achievement gap, regardless of average biological differences between races.

Instead, we have America’s public schools.

Kerry-Voting-Liberal Public-School Agitprop

The Quiet Crisis,” by Thomas Friedman, The World is Flat, 2005, ppg 270-273.

Agitation-Propaganda for reform of America’s socialist education system from Tom Friedman

While I think a dose of skepticism is always in order, I also think the skeptics would be wise to pay more heed to the flattening of the world and how quickly some of these trends could change. It is why I favor Shirley Ann Jackson’s approach: The sky is not falling today, but it might be in fifteen or twenty years if we don’t change our ways, and all signs are that we are not changing, especially in our public schools. Help is not on the way. The American education system from kindergarten through twelfth grade just is not stimulating enough youth people to want to go into science, math, and engineering

“We look at two things,” [Tracy Koon, Intel’s director of corporate affairs] continued. “We look at the fact that in disciplines that were relevant to our industry, the number of U.S. students graduating at the master’s and Ph.D. levels was declining in absolute numbers and relative to other countries. In our K to twelve we were doing okay at the fourth-grade level, we were doing middle-of-the-read in the eighth grade, and by the twelfth we were hovering near the bottom in international tests related to math. So the longer kids were in school, the dumber they were getting…”

If the longer meat was in a certain brand of refrigerator, the more spoiled it got, we would replace the refrigerator. If the longer patients were in a hospital, the sicker they got, we would close the hospital. But if the product is children in our socialist education system, some people think it’s acceptable.

Update: The rather less liberal Chirol adds…

In order to prevent massive social upheaval and instability, more people will need to have an increasingly better education to keep their heads above water. What does this mean for the US and Europe? Additionally, one must ask whether 100% employment is even possible (with the expected 2-5% unemployment) with today’s technological advanced. One thing is certain, the unskilled worker will continue to lose his job to the 3rd world and to new technology.

No Careers for Americans (Flat Jobs, Steep Education)

‘What, Me Worry?’,” by Thomas Friedman, New York Times, 29 April 2005, http://www.nytimes.com/2005/04/29/opinion/29friedman.html (from Eschaton).

Friedman riffs on the “public schools are terrible” summit from early April.

One of America’s most important entrepreneurs recently gave a remarkable speech at a summit meeting of our nation’s governors. Bill Gates minced no words. “American high schools are obsolete,” he told the governors. “By obsolete, I don’t just mean that our high schools are broken, flawed and underfunded. … By obsolete, I mean that our high schools – even when they are working exactly as designed – cannot teach our kids what they need to know today.

“Training the work force of tomorrow with the high schools of today is like trying to teach kids about today’s computers on a 50-year-old mainframe. … Our high schools were designed 50 years ago to meet the needs of another age. Until we design them to meet the needs of the 21st century, we will keep limiting – even ruining – the lives of millions of Americans every year.”

Before noting political weakness before this threat, Tom summarizes

Let me translate Mr. Gates’s words: “If we don’t fix American education, I will not be able to hire your kids.” I consider that, well, kind of important.

Public Education is built to standardize American students. The fast are held back with the herd, the slow are glamorized for falling behind the herd, the herd itself just stumbles along. We need to do better. Larry Summers, President of Harvard and former Clinton Treasury Secretary, agrees

For the first time in our history, we are going to face competition from low-wage, high-human-capital communities, embedded within India, China and Asia,” President Lawrence Summers of Harvard told me. In order to thrive, “it will not be enough for us to just leave no child behind. We also have to make sure that many more young Americans can get as far ahead as their potential will take them. How we meet this challenge is what will define our nation’s political economy for the next several decades.”

Friedman’s closing words echo parts of other networkbased theories

Meeting this challenge requires a set of big ideas. If you want to grasp some of what is required, check out a smart new book by the strategists John Hagel III and John Seely Brown entitled “The Only Sustainable Edge.” They argue that comparative advantage today is moving faster than ever from structural factors, like natural resources, to how quickly a country builds its distinctive talents for innovation and entrepreneurship – the only sustainable edge.

India and China know they can’t just depend on low wages, so they are racing us to the top, not the bottom. Producing a comprehensive U.S. response – encompassing immigration, intellectual property law and educational policy – to focus on developing our talent in a flat world is a big idea worthy of a presidency. But it would also require Mr. Bush to do something he has never done: ask Americans to do something hard.

Friedman is arguing that flexible, individualized education is needed if a flexible, individualized world.

When Tom says the world is flat, he means that it uses peer-based networks like never before. Flexibility, not stability, is the watchword. There aren’t big industrial corporations with steady career ladders anymore. However, public education is steep, not flat. America’s secondary education system is like a parody of a Japanese conglomerate — sit down, shut up, and eventually you’ll be at the top with the other old people.

This must change.

Public Education Bad for Business (and Unions)

Workforce needs polish, U.S. businesses declare,” by Leon Lazaroff, Chicago Tribune, 10 April 2005, http://story.news.yahoo.com/news?tmpl=story&cid=2027&ncid=2027&e=4&u=/chitribts/20050410/ts_chicagotrib/workforceneedspolishusbusinessesdeclare (from Democratic Underground).

Businesses and unions are natural adversaries. So it takes something big, like the lousy state of American secondary schools, to make them come together

As lawmakers and educators struggle to improve high schools in the U.S., businesses and labor unions say they are alarmed that even job seekers with a diploma can’t function in the workplace.

It’s a problem, they say, that threatens to cripple American productivity at home and competition abroad.

While the AFL-CIO and National Association of Manufacturers have clashed over wage issues and foreign trade, Paul Cole, secretary-treasurer of the New York State AFL-CIO says the two groups agree that a more efficient and higher-skilled workforce can ensure that well-paying jobs are not exported.

What is the problem?

Students get out of secondary school unable to work

Discouraged by the work habits of many new employees, a handful of states, led by New York, are working to create a nationally recognized “work readiness” credential. Proponents say the credential would certify that a prospective employee understands the importance of “soft skills” such as punctuality, a willingness to accept supervision and an ability to work in a group.

You’d think people would know to call in sick when they’re not coming to work, but that’s not always the case,” said Michael Kauffman, an executive at Anoplate Corp., a 175-person metal manufacturer in Syracuse. “We’re having many more problems than in the past getting people who understand what it means to work in an office or a factory.”

Why do we need a work readiness credential? Because secondary school diplomas have been deflated to worthlessness.

It is a depressing article. And yet another example of how our 19th century socialist education system has failed.

Education A La Carte (Unbundling Failure)

Home-schooled students want part in public school activities,” by Claudette Riley, Tennessean, 4 April 2005, http://tennessean.com/education/archives/05/03/67794851.shtml?Element_ID=67794851.

Education Is Not a Menu,” by MichiganVote, Democratic Underground, 4 April 2005, http://www.democraticunderground.com/discuss/duboard.php?az=show_mesg&forum=102&topic_id=1366125&mesg_id=1366185.

Tennessee is pondering allowing home-scholars to particpated in extra-curricular (non academic) activities)

Families who don’t want their children attending public schools do want them to be able to play on public school sports teams.

The Tennessee Home Education Association is backing legislation that would allow students who are taught at home — and those in small private schools — to play high school sports and participate in such extracurricular activities as art, drama and music in public schools.

”It’s about equal access,” said Mike Bell, a THEA lobbyist who teaches his kids at home. ”This is about giving all Tennessee children equal access to publicly funded facilities and activities.”

Accidentally, a DU poster makes an insightful comment

Education is not a menu. Arts and Music are courses that students receive a grade on. If homeschoolers take part in these items in a school system, they must become part of the head count. The problem in the idea of home schoolers taking part in alacart’ education is that it then opens the door to private school students also saying, ‘hey, I want to take Art or Music at this public facility as opposed to my private school which spends all its money on religion or some other program. PE is a course that is also required in most HS curricula. In some cases private school or home school parents want their kids to have band but then they don’t want to abide by the requirements.

Great point. Why is education not a menu?

I took college classes in high school. I received high-school credit for them. But why limit it there?

Apprenticing at an auto-shop would give tech students a better education than a shop class. Apprenticing at a local theatre is more useful than taking a theatre class. What is the purpose of bundling mathematics, music, and football in a take-it-or-leave-it deal? If a student can learn mathematics from an online university across the sea, A/V from a local ad agency, and baseball from a local high school, why not let him?

Why keep centralized, socialist, archaic, and failed public secondary schools when the international market offers so much more?

Terrible Secondary Schools

Is French Preschool Right for America? Goldwater Report Raises Questions about Government Plans for Preschool,” The Arizona Conservative, http://www.azconservative.org/State%20News%20Briefs.htm, 10 February 2005 (from Free Republic).

Since 1965, enrollment of four-year-olds in early education programs has increased from 16 to 66 percent, but test scores are virtually unchanged. However, U.S. students routinely outperform their international peers in the early years, indicating that American students are well served by a flexible approach to early education where parents choose the setting, including home care that is best for their children. While U.S. children are “A” students in fourth grade, they regress to “D” students by 12th grade.

“The good news is America’s early education system is among the best in the world,” Olsen said. “The bad news is the secondary system is among the worst. There are solutions, but trading sippy cups for school desks is not one of them.”

We have a highly choice-oriented early learning system. Preschool is voluntary and provided by many individuals and groups. Choosing kindergarten, or at least the year to start kindergarten, is a highly personal decision. Result? We have briliant little scholars.

We have a highly choice-oriented tertiary learning system. Colleges and universities are completely voluntary. Options range from diploma mills to community colleges to tech-ag schools to liberal arts institutions to research universities. Result? We have the best scholars in the world.

Everything in between is a socialisitic monstrosity. Result? Perhaps the worst secondary school system in the developed world.

Unaffordable Child Warehousing

Charts: 10 Facts About K-12 Education Funding,” U.S. Department of Education, http://www.ed.gov/about/overview/fed/10facts/edlite-chart.html#1 (from Power Line).

U.S. Public Education: Still Terrible, Now Unaffordable Too!

We spend more than anybody except Switzerland
Primary and Secondary education costs continue to rise
“Disadvanced Children” grants are exploding
Average spending per pupil falls skyward
Special education exponentially rockets
As done federal spending

But at least we’re better than Tunisia!

Still Better than Tunisia!

Test results mixed for students in US: Americans are behind other developed nations,” by Maria Sacchetti, Boston Globe, http://www.boston.com/news/nation/articles/2004/12/15/test_results_mixed_for_students_in_us, 15 December 2004 (from Google News)

Gov. Bush, voucher supporters appeal ruling to state high court,” by the Associated Press, The Maimi Herald, http://www.miami.com/mld/miamiherald/news/state/10416051.htm?1c, 14 December 2004.

Public schools: still terrible.

American eighth-graders improved their math and science scores on an international test last year, but fourth-graders’ scores were flat and all students lagged behind other industrialized nations, Boston College researchers said yesterday.

US pupils scored above the international average on the tests, given to students in dozens of wealthy and poor nations every four years. But the grades overall were mediocre for a prosperous nation that devotes billions of dollars to education, test officials said.

“The United States really is an underachiever, given our economy, our educational level, the resources that we put into education,” said Ina V. S. Mullis, codirector of the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study and an education professor at Boston College, which runs the study.

But hey, at least it is not endemic

At a news conference yesterday at Boston College, test officials attributed the mediocre performance of American students to teachers who don’t specialize in math and science; a curriculum that tries to cover too many topics, preventing students from mastering any in depth; and a society that may not recognize the importance of math and science in economic growth.

American students were less likely than their peers in other industrialized nations to have a math teacher who majored in math or a science teacher who studied one of the hard sciences, such as biology or physics.

For instance, 81 percent of eighth-graders in Japan had a teacher who majored in math in college, and they scored a 570 out of 1,000. By contrast, 48 percent of US eighth-graders had teachers with math majors, and they averaged a score of 504.

But thank God we have school choice, so parents are forced to send children to these academic hells

The Supreme Court announced Tuesday it had received the appeal notices late Monday. Because the issue is the status of a state law that has been found unconstitutional by a lower court, the court is required to take the case.

The state has been allowed to issue vouchers since the first ruling, nearly five years ago, that the law was unconstitutional.

Last month, the 1st District Court of Appeal agreed with a trial judge who said the 1999 law violates the state constitution because it lets tax dollars be spent on religious schools.

Well, I’m sure that the crazies were making kids convert…

Under the law, voucher students can be taught about religion but cannot be made to pray, worship or profess a religious belief.

Of course, advocates for the most vulnerable — the children themselves — plus representatives of groups that support school choice — like racial minorities — stood by school choice…

Opponents, including the state’s teacher union, the Florida PTA, the Florida League of Women Voters and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, challenged the law in court the day after Bush signed it.

But… we’re still better than Tunisia!

US scores trailed many industrialized countries, especially those in Asia. Students in Singapore topped all nations in both subjects.

Tunisia and South Africa scored among the lowest.

Public schools: still terrible.