July 9, 2008

Mystery Ingredient X

Tyler Cowen asks:

I don't think we have a recipe that says, "Take a child of two non-college educated parents, add primary education ingredient X, bake, and out comes a college-capable high school graduate." The mystery ingredient X has yet to be discovered.


Predictably, lots of commenters showed up and said the missing ingredient X is IQ. What they mean is that students continue to need a high IQ to succeed in today's education environment because, by and large, the prevalent educational techniques fail to simplify the complex concepts students need to learn to be "college-capable high school students." The result is that education remains largely inaccessible to those having low IQs.

I'd say mystery ingredient X will most likely involve something that simplifies the complex concepts that need to be learned, but currently aren't being learned by low-IQ students. (This also extends to low-SES students which largely overlap the low-IQ group.) DI provides a large portion of this mystery ingedient X at the elementary school level. In fact, this is speifically the goal of DI's design:

The net result of meeting these criteria is that DI materials appear to be easy. Possibly the most difficult concept for observers of DI programs to understand is that although the programs seem simple, they meet multiple design criteria that make them simple. The superficial impression of a program done right is that the authors may not understand some of the complexities of the content. The complexities, however, have been addressed and have been reduced to non-complexities that do not sacrifice the integrity of what is taught earlier or what is to be taught later. If the criteria are met, the prediction is that the student will generalize to a specified set of examples including those that have not been taught.


Rubric for Identifying Authentic DI Programs, pp. 18-19.

14 comments:

Anonymous said...

You also have to want to work hard to achieve success. Many people are reinforced with the opposite idea: that tv, popular music and sports are the most valued and that it doesn't really matter if you fail because you'll always be bailed out by someone else.

ari-free

KDeRosa said...

And they also receive negative reinforcement when they fail to achieve.

4trogan said...

Low IQ students are not simply human beings with inherent cognitive deficits due to just genetics or just SES. Rather, their "deficits" can and should be explained in terms of skill deficits.

And when talking about public education or teaching, the term "skill deficit" is probably the only term that should be used, because any other term more than likely places part of the "blame" on the student, or his condition/disability/status himself instead of on what the student had been taught ("taught" implying someone with responsibility to ensure the student mastered the skill).

tft (The Frustrated Teacher) said...

I believe there are IQ differences. I believe that different modes of instruction work for different students.

I do not believe, necessarily, that having been taught means you learned. I think teachers do the teaching, and students and their families do the learning.

I am all for accountability for teachers (or districts, but we know it's for teachers), but where is the accountability for parents and students? Maybe this is the X factor?

Anonymous said...

but my point is that we're not just dealing with a skill deficit. They have learned something: they should be part of a popular culture that values everything except academics.

You have to address that culture before you can teach them. The asians don't just have great curriculums and methods but also a great attitude towards working really hard for the A even if they won't be considered popular by the rest of society.

ari-free

Parentalcation said...

"I do not believe, necessarily, that having been taught means you learned. I think teachers do the teaching, and students and their families do the learning."

If they didn't learn, then they weren't taught... the teacher might of attempted to teach... but didn't succeed.

"but where is the accountability for parents and students?"

Teachers provide the service, parents and students are the customers. You don't hold buyers of a product responsible for it being inferior.

Tracy W said...

You also have to want to work hard to achieve success.

Actually no. I was quite successful at school without working hard until the last two years. In fact, until the last two years I was bored out of my brain.

I do regret that I never had to work hard at school. But if that learning had come at the price of not being able to read, write and do mathematics then it wouldn't have been worth it. Reading is even more vital to adult life than being able to work hard.

That said, I don't think that shools face an either-or choice. The DI curriculum for reading and maths only takes up half the school day. The value of hard work can be taught in the other half. Have kids struggle to learn to play the piano, or dance a Highland Fling, or understand T.S. Eliot. If they happen to fail, well at least the school hasn't ruined them scholastically.

They have learned something: they should be part of a popular culture that values everything except academics.

Popular culture values academics. CSI, Dead Poet's Society, Legally Blond, talking heads with PhDs, etc. Go down the street and ask people whether they support repealing the compulsory schooling laws.

Independent George said...

You have to address that culture before you can teach them.

I mostly agree with this, but I think you're aiming in the wrong direction.

Curricula and pedagogy is itself a reflection of the culture. A curricula that values academics will teach academics; a curricula that doesn't will extoll the 'whole child' and emphasize loosely-defined 'creativity' and 'higher-order thinking'. Compare the content of 'Everyday Math' textbook with 'Singapore Math', it's pretty evident which one values academics. Now look at who prefers the former to the latter, and tell me who values what.

Most parents value academics, but - particularly among low SES families - they don't know how to attain it. That's why they rely on teachers to impart those skills, while the teachers, in turn, rely on the ed schools to train them properly on how to do so. The mistaken assumption on the part of both parents and teachers is that the supposed experts responsible for 'Everyday Math' share their values regarding academics.

tft (The Frustrated Teacher) said...

"If they didn't learn, then they weren't taught" seems awfully narrow, though I understand how one could view it that way.

I am not one who thinks every child can learn with the same depth as every other child. This flies in the face of the fact that there are indeed differences among people.

It also perpetuates the, IMHO, false notion that teachers can teach anyone anything. That just seems ridiculous on its face.

Anonymous said...

Tracy, DI is pretty hard work. Most kids would rather play games in class and that's one of the reasons why Everyday Math is so popular.

By popular culture, I mean among the elementary school population and especially those at risk. American Idol and rap music is a bit more popular than Dead Poet's Society.
Also, the problem is not that Americans are against hard work per se. Many kids and parents put a strong emphasis on sports, for example. The message is: Don't waste time on math; practice every day on basketball so that you'll make millions of dollars as a professional one day.

ari-free

Tracy W said...

Tracy, DI is pretty hard work.

Do you have a cite for this? I understood that DI students found it easy, but I can't find the reference again.

By popular culture, I mean among the elementary school population and especially those at risk. American Idol and rap music is a bit more popular than Dead Poet's Society.

There's a chicken and egg problem here. If kids are failing at school, then there is a big incentive to them mentally to give up, and focus on something else, like sports or rap, at which they feel they are good.

Many kids and parents put a strong emphasis on sports, for example. The message is: Don't waste time on math; practice every day on basketball so that you'll make millions of dollars as a professional one day.

I'm confused now. Are you only talking about "among the elementary school population" or are you talking about popular culture more generally?

CrypticLife said...

"And they also receive negative reinforcement when they fail to achieve."

*winces* I assume you mean punishment, but it's not even that. Punishment and reinforcement are delivered contingent on a response.

Since "not learning" is not a response, there's a different term for it behaviorally: abuse.

Anonymous said...

This seems like such an odd conversation. If a certain IQ is required to succeed at a certain goal, then by the very definition of IQ, not everyone can achieve that goal.

If DI succeeds by simplifying complex concepts, do we need to be concerned that the low-IQ students that would benefit that simplicity are not learning how to put together those complex concepts in their own head? (Probably not, since presumably they aren't doing that now.)

In the end, low-IQ and high-IQ students may both know the concepts, but the high-IQ students will also be a little better at figuring out other complex concepts while low-IQ students will need "simplified" versions of everything. Whether it's called an IQ difference or a "skill deficit", does it mean that some students can't do everything that other students can?

Tracy W said...

Ken said: "And they also receive negative reinforcement when they fail to achieve."

Cypticlife: *winces* I assume you mean punishment, but it's not even that. Punishment and reinforcement are delivered contingent on a response.

Crypticlife - I think Ken was not talking about punishment, but negative reinforcement more generally. For example, if someone, adult or child, finds a game frustrating, then they are unlikely to keep playing it even if no one ever punishes them for failing at it.

Reading is often presented as an ultra-important thing (which it is), so any student who has absorbed that message but is still failing to learn to read is likely getting some pretty serious negative reinforcement merely by that method.