July 17, 2007

The Freep doesn't get it

The Detroit Free Press has a typically silly editorial today on education and the plight of minorities who tend to drop out of school in disproportionate numbers.

If you could take a class photo of the 1.2 million young people who drop out of high school in this country each year, one detail would be obvious -- and troubling.

Students of color, usually poor, dominate. It's true in Detroit, where one recent report estimates that city schools graduate only 24.9 % of students who start 9th grade, and shows up in every major study of the dropout population. Failure to complete high school is an epidemic problem among poor minorities, the population that's most in need of education to escape poverty.

Actually, not completing high school is an epidemic problem among poor white students as well. More accurately not completing high school is a problem for all students who don't have the cognitive ability to master academic material on the K-12 level as it is currently taught, i.e., poorly.

The sad truth is that you have to be smart to do well enough academically to graduate high school. That's the way it's always been.

Brett over at DeHavilland Blog has an excellent post on Thomas Jefferson's views on education and his thoughts on student ability at the turn of the 19th century:

2) Every child is entitled to three years of instruction in reading, writing, and arithmetic.


5) Students at grammar schools study "Greek, Latin, geography, and the higher branches of numerical arithmetic."

6) After a trial period of one or two years, the best student at each grammar school is selected for six years of further instruction. "By this means . . . the best geniusses will be raked from the rubbish annually, and be instructed, at the public expense, so far as the grammar schools go."

200 years ago, the state of education was such that only a tiny fraction of students (the geniuses) had the cognitive ability to acquire a high school by the then-current pedagogical means.

By and large pedagogical techniques haven't improved since then. You still need to be pretty smart to acquire the watered down academics that pass for a k-12 education today.

Education continues to be brutally discriminatory against the dumb.

If you want to increase the percentage of kids that graduate high school, the simple answer is to improve teaching. Such improvement requires innovation and that innovation is not forthcoming from today's education monopoly.

If the editors at the Detroit Free Press really cared about the educational plight of poor kids they'd be lobbying for better schools. Unfortunately, based on this editorial they don't even know what a good school is.

Nationally, minority students are four times as likely to be enrolled in one of the 2,000 high schools that have been identified as producing approximately half of the nation's dropouts, according to the Campaign's report, "A Plan for Success."

Anyone daring to dismiss this fact as just another minority problem isn't paying enough attention to the population trends. The minority students who are either dropping out of school or getting a grossly inequitable education are also the growing segments of the U.S. population.

The Detroit Free Press thinks that the problem is that the schools that minority kids are going to are worse than the schools that middle class kids go to. They aren't. Educationally, they are the same. The education provided at both schools is for all intents and purposes is the same. The problem is that a higher percentage of kids in the schools that minorities attend do not have the cognitive ability to take advantage of the poorly implemented education being offered.

The Detroit Free Press thinks that the tired bromides set forth in the Campaign for High School Equity's "A Plan for Success" are the answer. We'll take a look at them in the next post.


sailorman said...

I'm confused.

Are you suggesting that minorities have lesser cognitive abilities than whites? That's been fairly well debunked (a la The Bell Curve.)

Are you suggesting that poor people are stupid? That hasn't been debunked much, mostly because it makes no sense at the outset: poverty is not a genetic trait.

Or are you--deliberately, i assume--using a definition of "intelligence" or "cognitive ability" that conveniently begins AFTER people have acquired their initial learning, and which thus ignores the obvious effect of education?

Instructivist said...

What trips them up is not cognitive ability but behavior, attitude and values. Culture, not genes.

KDeRosa said...

I am suggesting that different groups have different IQ distributions. There is no serious dispute as the existence of these differences, only as to the cause.

Poverty is not a genetic trait, but IQ has a genetic component and there is a trong correlation between low IQ and poverty levels. So you are getting your cause and effect backwards.

It is also the case that education does little to affect IQ in the long run. A superior education may temporarily boost IQ, but once that education effect is removed, IQ regresses back to the pre-education level. Few kids get a superior education that this effect is substantial.

None of this is controversial outsde of the fringe nutters. Just ask the APA.

Math Teacher said...


What in the original post led you to inquire as you did?

It's as if we were reading two different things.

allenm said...

Well this is old home week.

It would probably make for a more credible case if some of the factors being measured and being used to discriminate the various populations could be described with some degree of rigor.

For instance, what's being measured when a kid takes an IQ test? The number of neurons? The number of synapses? Some more arcane quantity?

I'd like to think that a score on an IQ test means something other then the number of correct versus incorrect answers but if that's so, why all the reticence about revealing the quantity being measured? And if an IQ test does measure the ability to take IQ tests doesn't the circularity of the logic result in dizziness?

Also, what's this "race" thing that everyone seems so obsessed with?

Is there some DNA test that'll determine what IQ distribution applies by determining race or is the "squint" method used to identify race? And how tight is the coupling between the critical genetic characteristics and applicable IQ distribution? Do specific characteristics have a greater influence over IQ distribution then other racially-identified genetic characteristics or is the coupling to IQ distribution a general characteristic of racially-identifiable individuals?

If you look white do you get white IQ scores and if you look black do you get black IQ scores?

Anonymous said...

The LCCR is the same group that called for Rod Paige's resignation based upon misquotes published by Baptist Press. Did they ever retract their accusations, or do they persist in conduct unbecoming a high school graduate?

In contrast, the Citizens' Commission on Civil Rights is using Gates Foundation money ($172,515 over 35 months) "to provide public access and understanding of teacher collective bargaining agreements in the nation’s largest public school system, in partnership with the National Council on Teacher Quality."

Wonder which one includes the NEA in its executive committee?

Joanne Jacobs said...

Approximately one percent of U.S. students are considered mentally retarded. The other 99 percent have the cognitive ability needed to earn a high school diploma. It's not brain surgery.