November 9, 2010

New Great Schools study doesn’t tell us anything we don’t already know

The oxymoronically titled Council of the Great City Schools, an advocacy group for urban public schools, turns up the rhetoric to 11 on the new “study” it will release later today (Press Release):

New Report on Black Male Achievement Reveals Jaw-Dropping Data

The stark statistics reveal what a new report calls a "national catastrophe" in the academic attainment and future career prospects of too many of the country’s African American male youth.jaw_dropping_butch

Jaw dropping?


“Jaw dropping” implies surprise and I can’t imagine the Council of the Great City schools can possibly be surprised by the performance of black males on NAEP.

Only 12 percent of fourth­ grade black male students nationally and 11 percent of those living in large central cities performed at or above proficient levels in reading on the 2009 National Assessment for Educational Progress (NAEP), compared with 38 percent of white males nationwide. In eighth grade, only 12 percent of black males across the country and 10 percent living in large cities performed at or above proficient in math, compared with 44 percent of white males nationwide.

It shouldn’t be surprising that NAEP scores are this low.  They’ve been this low for quite some time.  The relatively low scores are merely an indication that the NAEP is a more difficult or has lower cut scores (or both) than  most assessments

And the achievement gap hovers at about a standard deviation between whites and blacks.  That too is about where it always seems to be.

So, again, why the surprise?

In fact, the average African American fourth ­and eighth ­grade male who is neither poor nor disabled does no better in reading and math on NAEP than white males who are poor or disabled.

That’s not a surprising result either if you read this blog. (What?  You think this is an economics blog or something?)

Although since this study is getting mainstream attention, I am curious to see how this fact will be reported.

The Times gets  a talking head to spin it for them.

“There’s accumulating evidence that there are racial differences in what kids experience before the first day of kindergarten,” said Ronald Ferguson, director of the Achievement Gap Initiative at Harvard. “They have to do with a lot of sociological and historical forces. In order to address those, we have to be able to have conversations that people are unwilling to have.”

Those include “conversations about early childhood parenting practices,” Dr. Ferguson said. “The activities that parents conduct with their 2-, 3- and 4-year-olds. How much we talk to them, the ways we talk to them, the ways we enforce discipline, the ways we encourage them to think and develop a sense of autonomy.”

Apparently, those conversations won’t include any possible genetic effects.  I suppose we’re still unwilling to have that that conversation.

Dr. Ferguson seems to be relying on the famous Hart & Risley study and fails to mention studies like the Minnesota Transracial Adoption Study which showed that black adoptees failed to benefit from the language rich environment found in high-SES white homes.

The last seven paragraphs in the Times article are comedy gold if you know anything about economics. and incentives. 


Anonymous said...

Mr. DeRosa,

You ignore the fact that the Minnesota Transracial Study used different IQ tests for the seven and seventeen year old groups. The sample size was only 130. Also, no attempt was made to see the effects of children placed with high-SES adoptive parents of the same race.

KDeRosa said...

@a31b, subsequent analysis of the MTRS study corrected for the different IQ tests used. A sample size of 130 is sufficiently large to give statistically significant results and it is not the only study to find these results. We don't need a transracial study to see those effects -- black students from high SES black families perform below low SES white students as the CGCS study explains.

Anonymous said...

Mr. DeRosa,

Loehlin's recorrection for the MTRS study in 2000 indicated that even assuming that the IQ tests were the same, the average IQ score at age seven for low-SES white children adopted into high-SES white homes was 111.5, which was a point higher than for the non adopted low SES white subjects.
Scarr et al's results from 1975 showed a five point spread between the two groups with the non adopted white children having a score of 117 and the adopted white children having a score of 112.

In addition, the number of subjects in the study changed. First, it was 130 in 1975. Then, when the subjects were tested ten years later, it had increased to 265, out of which 69 subjects were excluded for reasons that Scarr et al. don't explain.

Interestingly, of the IQ scores for the seventeen year old adopted interracial and black children, the vertical spread actually decreased by five tenths of a perentage point from 99 and 89 respectively in 1985 to 93.2 and 83.7 in Loehlin's reanaylsis.

You've also mentioned the Minnesota Twin study to support a genetic hypothesis. What I didn't see mentioned was the fact that the average IQ score for the twins was eight points higher than the population in Minnesota and that they had been placed into a family rage only half of the size of the general population in Minnesota. The result was that more than three fourths of the twins scored higher than the average.

KDeRosa said...

the average IQ score at age seven for low-SES white children adopted into high-SES white homes was 111.5

And the Perry Preschool got IQs up to something like 120 as did the Bereiter-Engelmann preschool and other educational programs aimed at younger students.

And then what invariably happens is that IQS regress back down to baseline when the kids hit adolescence.

So environmental effects play a larger role at age 7 then they do at 13.

That there is likely a genetic component to IQ does not mean that the environment plays no role ever. That's a strawman. The eswtimates are that the genetic component accounts for 0.4 - 0.7 of the variability.

palisadesk said...

Engelmann followed up on the E-B kids as adults on several occasions. Most completed high school, college or post-secondary and had middle-class occupations or even professional careers. That could not have happened had they regressed to baseline IQs of 80-95.

I don't have time to look up the UK data but perhaps one of your readers from across the pond will supply it.

It is highly unlikely that low SES whites outperform low SES Blacks.


c-u-r-m-u-d-g-e-o-n said...

The palisadesk comment, if factual, suggests the possibility that making a choice (e.g. to emigrate from Africa or the Caribbean) to incur some short-term insecurity for a long-term gain is associated with high performance. Can someone afford to test this hypothesis by comparing kids not by race nor by parental achievement but by parental choice to immigrate, to live on loans to go to college, or to found a business?