Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Murray: Half the kids are below average Murray: Half the kids are below average

Charles Murray in the WSJ: Intelligence in the Classroom: Half of all children are below average, and teachers can do only so much for them does his usual bomb throwing, this time by pointing out that (by definition) half of all children are below average in intelligence, and that means that many don't have the capacity to perform at grade level, regardless of the level of intervention:
For example, in the 2005 round of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), 36% of all fourth-graders were below the NAEP's "basic achievement" score in reading. It sounds like a terrible record. But we know from the mathematics of the normal distribution that 36% of fourth-graders also have IQs lower than 95.

What IQ is necessary to give a child a reasonable chance to meet the NAEP's basic achievement score? Remarkably, it appears that no one has tried to answer that question. We only know for sure that if the bar for basic achievement is meaningfully defined, some substantial proportion of students will be unable to meet it no matter how well they are taught. As it happens, the NAEP's definition of basic achievement is said to be on the tough side. That substantial proportion of fourth-graders who cannot reasonably be expected to meet it could well be close to 36%.
The comments are also interesting. I was esp. struck by this one by Daren Miller:
Part of the problem with our education system is the need for political correctness. Gone are the days when students were segregated by ability and taught to the level of their ability. Remember the old classes; 8A, 8B, etc. The students in 8A were smarter than the students in 8B, students in 8B were smarter than the students in 8C and so on. I know there were some students in 8B that belonged in 8A or 8C, but the system worked pretty well. The students in 8D spent more time learning the three Rs using teaching techniques for their intellectual ability. The students in 8A spent more time on creative thinking skills.

My wife taught in the public school system for 35 years and over the years main-streaming resulted from political correctness. She had children in her first grade class that were reading on a third grade level and she also had children with Down Syndrome. With a class room of students with such a wide range of learning abilities, and disabilities, how does a teacher give everyone in the class a good education? She does not. The smart kids get less and the children with Down Syndrome get very little because the "normal" classroom setting is not equipped to teach these children. No Child Left Behind is not a perfect answer to improving our education system, but it has put pressure on school administrators to do a better job and it has also helped to focus attention on reasons, as Mr. Murray has, for why all children can not be A students.


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