kitchen table math, the sequel: good schools raise IQ, bad schools lower IQ, part 1

Thursday, January 18, 2007

good schools raise IQ, bad schools lower IQ, part 1

from Mind Sculpture by Ian Robertson, pages 154-156

Poor schooling lowers intelligence and handicaps children intellectually for life. In schools that give inadequate education, children may learn so little that they steadily fall behind in academic performance and on tests, when compared to all other children of the same age in their country. In other words, their intelligence is steadily eroded because the synapses in their brain are inadequately tuned and shaped by the planned structured experience that good teachers provide.

This is precisely what happened in some rural school systems in the southern states of America during the 1970s. Education was so poor in some of these systems that intelligence was more badly eroded the longer children stayed in the system. As a result, the IQs of the older children in a family who had been in the school system longer were routinely lower than those of their younger brothers and sisters whose brains had not yet suffered the great synaptic hunger which comes from poor education.

In the 1950s, before desegregation in the southern states of America, poor education of this type was the rule rather than the exception. In one study, black children who had moved from the south to Philadelphia had their IQ scores raised more than half a point for every year they spent in this better school system.

Some prominent academics believe that intelligence is very largely genetically determined. Such a view simply does not fit with this evidence that IQ rises and falls depending upon the type of stimulation to which children’s brains are exposed. But the interactions between genes and environment are so complex that this evidence is not quite conclusive in showing that environment has a major effect on intelligence.

A critical test of the importance of experience and environment would be this. You would have to take babies from poor—low socio-economic status (SES)—families and have them adopted into high SES families. Then you would have to take babies born of high SES families and adopt them into low SES families. In fact, just this study has been done in France, giving the critical piece of evidence to show that intelligence is shaped by environment.

People who argue that genes are the main determinant of intelligence think that poverty and socio-economic status are to a very large extent determined by genetically inherited intelligence. Their prediction for the French adoption study would therefore be that biology should win out in the competition with environment. They would predict that the intelligence of babies born with the ‘good’ genes of the high SES parents would be relatively unaffected by the more impoverished environment provided by the low SES parents adopting them. Similarly, those babies with the ‘less intelligent’ genes would not in their view, benefit particularly from the greater opportunities, stimulation and learning offered in the high SES families.

The French researchers studied two groups of children at around the age of fourteen who fell precisely into these two critical categories—namely, poor natural parents and well-off adoptive parents versus well-off natural parents and poor adoptive parents. In support of the geneticists’ view of things, children of well-off natural parents had a higher IQ at the age of fourteen than those of low SES natural parents.

However, in support of the brain-sculpture environmentalist view, an equally large difference appeared between children reared in well-off versus poor adoptive families—a very significant 12 IQ points. In other words, environment had as big an effect on intelligence as did inherited biology.

[snip]

Think for a moment … about the 10 million words per year spoken to the average middle-class baby for the first three years of life. Contrast this with the 3 million or so words spoken to the average child from the family on welfare. Multiply this number of brain-changing interactions by the number of years of childhood, and you are faced with a staggering shortfall in stimulation to the brain.

[snip]

According to research on teaching methods, individual tutoring produces hugely better academic performance than does general teaching by standard classroom methods.

In fact, the average individually tutored student performs better than 98 per cent of students who are given standard teaching—and this has little to do with prior ability. In the tutored group, what determined success was practice and training, with the pre-existing academic abilities playing a relatively small part. Only when training was rather poor—as is the case in most standard classroom teaching—did prior abilities play a part in predicting who achieved well and who achieved badly.

It is difficult to underestimate the importance of this fact. Take any school subject—algebra, geography, English, for instance. Put 100 children into the standard classroom and measure their achievement after a course of normal classroom teaching. Now take another 100 children of the same average range of abilities and intelligence and give them individual tutoring in the subject. No matter what their abilities at the beginning of the course, the average individually tutored pupil will be better than ninety-eight of the children in the standard classroom group. [ed.: "I should have homeschooled"]

What then is the importance of pre-existing abilities in this kind of tuition? Trivial, according to the researchers. This isn’t terribly good news for parents who think they can sit back and let their children’s genes lift them to high achievement! [ed.: a core belief in my own district] While good genes help, the type of training and teaching a child gets has a huge impact on the development of mental abilities. So what is one supposed to do to unlock this potential?

Robertson is also the author of Unilateral Neglect: Brain Damage, Behaviour, and Cognition.

A couple of points.

Robertson works in the fields of rehabilitation and brain plasticity. Obviously specialists in brain plasticity, roughly defined as the ability of the brain to change, develop, repair itself and so on, take a far less deteriministic view of genes and IQ than do people working in genetics and twin studies.

In public debates over IQ, we rarely hear from these people. Instead the claim that IQ can be entirely or substantially affected by environment is invariably put forth as a liberal ideological position that leads directly to "liberal" ("liberal" in the ed-school sense of the word "liberal") efforts to define away differences in intellectual ability through appeals to multiple intelligences, the "leveling" of curriculum, and the like.

The fact is, however, that there exist at least two schools of thought and peer-reviewed research* which hold that the brain is plastic and talent and intellect are the result of expert teaching and practice:
  • researchers studying brain injuries, rehabilitation, and brain plasticity
Ericsson is the editor of the 900-page Cambridge Handbook of Expertise and Expert Performance, which I have, and which I am, in theory, reading. Wish me luck.



Deliberate Practice and Expert Performance


"Deliberate Practice and Expert Performance," published in 1993, seems to be the central text for the Ericsson school of thought. The paper's abstract makes clear Ericsson's failure to find much role for innate ability in expert performance of any kind:

The theoretical frameworkpresented in this article explains expert performance as the end result of individuals' prolonged efforts to improve performance while negotiating motivational and external constraints. In most domains of expertise, individuals begin in their childhood a regimen of effortful activities (deliberate practice) designed to optimize improvement. Individual differences, even among elite performers, are closely related to assessed amounts of deliberate practice. Many characteristics once believed to reflect innate talent are actually the result of intense practice extended for a minimumof 10years. Analysis of expert performance provides unique evidence on the potential and limits of extreme environmental adaptation and learning.

And here, from an update published in 2000:
When experts exhibit their superior performance in public their behavior looks so effortless and natural that we are tempted to attribute it to special talents. Although a certain amount of knowledge and training seems necessary, the role of acquired skill for the highest levels of achievement has traditionally been minimized. However, when scientists began measuring the experts' supposedly superior powers of speed, memory and intelligence with psychometric tests, no general superiority was found -- the demonstrated superiority was domain specific. For example, the superiority of the chess experts' memory was constrained to regular chess positions and did not generalize to other types of materials (Djakow, Petrowski & Rudik, 1927). Not even IQ could distinguish the best among chessplayers (Doll & Mayr, 1987) nor the most successful and creative among artists and scientists (Taylor, 1975). In a recent review, Ericsson and Lehmann (1996) found that (1) measures of general basic capacities do not predict success in a domain, (2) the superior performance of experts is often very domain specific and transfer outside their narrow area of expertise is surprisingly limited and (3) systematic differences between experts and less proficient individuals nearly always reflect attributes acquired by the experts during their lengthy training.
(quoted by Rebecca Blood on her weblog)


And, finally, here is the freakonomics version:
Ericsson and his colleagues have thus taken to studying expert performers in a wide range of pursuits, including soccer, golf, surgery, piano playing, Scrabble, writing, chess, software design, stock picking and darts. They gather all the data they can, not just performance statistics and biographical details but also the results of their own laboratory experiments with high achievers.

Their work, compiled in the "Cambridge Handbook of Expertise and Expert Performance," a 900-page academic book that will be published next month, makes a rather startling assertion: the trait we commonly call talent is highly overrated. Or, put another way, expert performers — whether in memory or surgery, ballet or computer programming — are nearly always made, not born. And yes, practice does make perfect. These may be the sort of clichés that parents are fond of whispering to their children. But these particular clichés just happen to be true.


Cambridge Handbooks of Expertise and Expert Performance - TOC & introduction

Cambridge Handbook of Expertise and Expert Performance at Cambridge University Press.

Table of Contents (pdf file)

Part 1: Introduction and Perspective by K. Anders Ericsson
(as pdf file)
____________

good schools raise IQ, bad schools lower IQ, part 1
good schools raise IQ, bad schools lower IQ, part 2
good schools raise IQ, bad schools lower IQ, part 3
Seth Roberts on IQ

fuzzy math makes you smarter
IQ quiz
school raises IQ
intelligence is verbal, perceptual, and image rotation
math isn't English

Aztecs versus Greeks, by Charles Murray
What's Wrong with Vocational School? by Charles Murray
Intelligence in the Classroom by Charles Murray

_____________

* there may be others, of course; these are the fields of which I'm aware

25 comments:

Parentalcation said...

Catherine,

Actually there is a huge consensus that the genetic effect on IQ is about 0.7

As far as IQ and expertise goes. Its true that practice makes perfect, but usually only if you already have the genetic disposition.

You can not take any child and make them a grandmaster in chess.

That of course, still doesn't excuse schools from teaching the vast majority of kids.

www.gnxp.com has lots of detailed information.

Catherine Johnson said...

I know gnxp has lots of detailed info, but my point is that other peer-reviewed researchers have other views.

Catherine Johnson said...

As far as IQ and expertise goes. Its true that practice makes perfect, but usually only if you already have the genetic disposition.

As I understand Ericsson's work, expertise isn't dependent on IQ.

I could have that wrong.

However, the "consensus" is a consensus amongst certain researchers, not others.

SteveH said...

I've never understood the big deal about IQ. How should that affect education, especially for K-6?

- Schools should teach well.
- Schools should use proven teaching methods.
- Schools should use good curricula.
- Schools should expect a lot from the kids.
- Schools should care about learning, not just teaching.
- Schools should push mastery of content and skills.

For normal K-6 grade-level expectations, how would knowing a child's IQ change anything?

For pragmatic (perhaps based on IQ) reasons, schools should begin separating kids by ability in 7th grade in preparation for full tracking in high school. It shouldn't matter whether this separation is based on IQ or hard work. Only results matter.

When, if ever, should a school know or care about IQ?

If the knowledge or skill is trivial enough, like learning to tie your shoes, then differences in results are mostly to do to good or bad teaching. My contention is that in grades K-6, where the standardized test expectations are so low, results have everything to do with teaching and little to do with IQ. One could also say that the worse the teaching, the more the results will correlate with IQ. NAEP is not an IQ test. It's a bad teaching test.

As you get into the upper grades and into high school, this could change, but that's why there are tracks. Again, results matter, not IQ.

One could argue (on IQ grounds) that closing the academic gap should not be the goal, but you don't need an IQ argument to fight that battle. Education is about teaching well on some absolute level, not reducing some vague sort of relative gap.

It doesn't matter whether it's nurture or nature, only resluts matter. Individual kids matter right now, not gaps, statistics, or ethnic groups.

Catherine Johnson said...

Here's one of the salient findings from the expert performance people:

Not even IQ could distinguish the best among chessplayers (Doll & Mayr, 1987) nor the most successful and creative among artists and scientists (Taylor, 1975). In a recent review, Ericsson and Lehmann (1996) found that (1) measures of general basic capacities do not predict success in a domain, (2) the superior performance of experts is often very domain specific and transfer outside their narrow area of expertise is surprisingly limited and (3) systematic differences between experts and less proficient individuals nearly always reflect attributes acquired by the experts during their lengthy training.

Catherine Johnson said...

I've seen this over and over again.

Living with a professional historian, I know some of the historians who write op-eds for newspapers.

These are distinguished historians....and yet their op-eds can be shockingly not-smart.

I believe g existst, but g without many years of "deliberate practice" can be amazingly dumb.

I'll finish my post later on.....

Catherine Johnson said...

Knowing a child's IQ may change things; I just don't know enough myself to have an opinion.

Apparently there's fairly extensive research showing that the brighter you are the "looser" the teaching method.

"Looser" isn't the right word, and I've got to get to work so I can't scout these things out at the moment.

In any case, Gottfredson has a chart showing the changes in teaching methodology as you go up the IQ scale.

At the low end you use exclusively direct instruction with skills broken down into their smallest component parts.

As you move up the scale you begin to give people a principle from which they can then deduce what to do and how to do it....

I'll try to find that paper later on.

Now, I have to say that having schools pick their teaching method based on an IQ test and a chart would be IMO a very bad idead.

In practice, I want schools to be continually looking at what form of instruction works best for which child.

A child who thrives in direct instruction should have direct instruction.

Catherine Johnson said...

I should add that I believe a great deal of that research was done in the military, and it had to do with training adults, not educating children.

Low-IQ adults, in the military (or elsewhere), need a great deal of direct, explicit, step-by-step instruction.

High-IQ adults figure a huge amount of stuff out on their own (iirc).

Catherine Johnson said...

Various people have speculated that one reason for the explosion in special ed designations is that special ed is the one realm in which a smart child can receive direct instruction.

I assume this is probably true.

Parentalcation said...

Ken over at D-Edreckoning made a point a while back showing that Direct Instruction would probably work as well for high IQ people.

I would imagine that good systematic teaching is good systematic teaching for everyone. "Smart" people figure things out for themselves because a. they can and b. they have too.

I would expect that D.I. for "smart" people would result in greatly accelerated learning. A lesson that would say take a week for average people, could be condensed into one day or so. (pure estimates on my part).

D.I. might even result in an even greater achievement gap, since the effect of the acceleration would widen the gap each year in school, whereas today bright students learn the years curriculum, and then progress no further.

What you say about Chess players is probably true if you only try and compare the top chess players, but if you compared all chess players, I am sure there would be a significant correlation.

I would guess there is a fuzzy threshold limit.

Its like there height isn't the best predictor of basketball ability within the NBA, but the Average height in the NBA is still way above the average height in the U.S.

At 5'x" (where x = a small number), there is no amount of practice I could do, to get me into the NBA. (ignoring my age).

To sum up: I think we disagree over IQ and expertise, agree over direct instruction.

Parentalcation said...

p.s. being in the military (army and now Air Force), they do use explicit instruction, but I wouldn't call it Direct Instruction.

The AF is especially good at teaching how to write the standard 5 paragraph essay. We get it taught in a very strict manner and format. It might not be creative writing, but the average writing is way better than the average at the colleges I go to as far as coherence and organization.

SteveH said...

"In any case, Gottfredson has a chart showing the changes in teaching methodology as you go up the IQ scale."

This may be true, but you and I don't want schools to give our kids an IQ test to see what teaching method they will get. They couldn't possibly get it right.

Shouldn't ed schools train teachers in various methods that work and give them the pragmatic skills to do whatever it takes to get the job done? We're not talking about rocket science. In K-6 math, we're just talking about a lack of basic competence and a teaching philosophy that ignores content and mastery. Many confuse issues of educational assumptions and competence with optimization.


"Various people have speculated that one reason for the explosion in special ed designations is that special ed is the one realm in which a smart child can receive direct instruction."

I have been told by an official in our state the the reason for the high percentage 20+% of IEP students at our non-urban school is that this is the only way you can get the money and resources to help a child even if it's just a small or temporary speech or hearing difficulty.


The problem at our K-8 public schools has to do with low expectations. They only define education in the most vague and fuzzy terms. If they chose to use Saxon math and enforced year-to-year expectations of knowledge and mastery, they would probably do just fine. They choose not to do this. On purpose!

As I said in another thread, our public schools have the kids build robots in 8th grade technology class to get them excited about science and engineering, but they only offer CMP+Algebra Lite for math. On purpose!

This is not about learning styles or teaching method optimization. It has to do with fundamental differences of opinion over what K-8 education is all about.

We can go on talking about all sorts of highfalutin things, but that just gives the schools more credence than they deserve. The argument is really very simple. They are in charge and they want all kids to follow their definition of education.

Transcript from a school open house:

"Good evening, I'm Chevy Chase and you're not."

Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah.

"Good night, and have a pleasant tomorrow."

Catherine Johnson said...

p.s. being in the military (army and now Air Force), they do use explicit instruction, but I wouldn't call it Direct Instruction.

I misspoke - it's not that the military always uses direct instruction; it's that I believe these particular studies were often done by the military in order to deterimine the most efficient and effective way of teaching.

Catherine Johnson said...

This may be true, but you and I don't want schools to give our kids an IQ test to see what teaching method they will get. They couldn't possibly get it right.

You can say that again.

Catherine Johnson said...

I tend to agree that direct instruction is great for everyone.....although I remember Rudbeckia once saying that she couldn't have stood being in an Engelmann scripted classroom as a kid.

One problem here is that we don't know which groups we're talking about; I think the Gottfredson charts may be about adult learners.

Children are always trying to learn brand new material in a brand new field, so direct instruction may almost always be best for young children.

I don't have an opinion on this because I just don't have enough experience or familiarity with the research.

My inclination, always, is towards explicit, direct instruction with reponsibility for individual student learning on the teacher & school.

Catherine Johnson said...

Shouldn't ed schools train teachers in various methods that work and give them the pragmatic skills to do whatever it takes to get the job done?

yes

Catherine Johnson said...

I have been told by an official in our state the the reason for the high percentage 20+% of IEP students at our non-urban school is that this is the only way you can get the money and resources to help a child even if it's just a small or temporary speech or hearing difficulty.

Absolutely.

Catherine Johnson said...

Transcript from a school open house:

"Good evening, I'm Chevy Chase and you're not."


Hey!

Were you at our Open House??

Catherine Johnson said...

Rory

I don't have an opinion on IQ & expert performance.

I do have an opinion (at this juncture) on g; I believe g exists.

(If I find out it doesn't, I'll change my view!)

I had always assumed IQ was mostly genetic until I started reading the neuroplasticity & expert performance folks (and those are two separate schools of research).

There are a couple of issues here:

1. If IQ is 50-70% genetic, does it matter? (That is, does brain plasticity allow you to "change the set point" so to speak.)

2. What is the relationship between IQ and expert performance? What other factors are involved, and what is the relationship amongst them?

I have come to believe, because I've been told by more than a few neuroscientists, that IQ and executive function are separate characteristics of the brain.

As a result, I've come to believe that "overachievement" is a real and valid concept.

I'll get to that sometime today!

rightwingprof said...

Like IQ, "nature v. nurture" is so politicized that it's almost impossible to discuss it rationally, even at the university. My BA is in bioanthropology. The "nature v. nurture" fight has gone on around me almost since the first day of my freshman year.

The really frustrating thing, though, is that "nature v. nurture" is such a canard, because it's simplistic. Inherited traits can be affected by environment. Nature and nurture aren't mutually exclusive.

We know that the brain is more plastic than we formerly thought. Many people recover language skills after strokes damage their speech centers. But old schools of thought die hard in academia -- which is a good thing, because it reflects the inherent skepticism of science.

Instructivist said...

"The really frustrating thing, though, is that "nature v. nurture" is such a canard, because it's simplistic. Inherited traits can be affected by environment. Nature and nurture aren't mutually exclusive."

I once heard about a study (can't pinpoint the name) that examined this complex interaction. One of the findings that impressed me immensely was that "nature" (the inherited smarts) tends to shape its own environment which then reinforces those smarts. This makes sense to me. A lively, curious mind might surround itself with stimulating things and people, create situations and scenarios that the duller wouldn't seek out.

Regarding IQ tests, I am not convinced it can clearly distinguish between innate traits and acquired abilities. I remember questions that depended on acquired knowledge. One of those questions asked for a definition of apocryphal. It struck me as quite esoteric knowledge. Another asked for the meaning of an idiom (strike while...).

Catherine Johnson said...

I once heard about a study (can't pinpoint the name) that examined this complex interaction. One of the findings that impressed me immensely was that "nature" (the inherited smarts) tends to shape its own environment which then reinforces those smarts.

You may have heard it at ktm 1!

That's part 2 of this post: one of the things that makes high-IQ people high-IQ is that they seek and create high-IQ promoting environments.

Catherine Johnson said...

There's fascinating research - which Robertson neglects - on adopted kids' IQs resembling their adoptive parents' IQs while they are children, then coming to resemble their biological parents' IQs once they become adults and are in charge of their own environments.

This is the "reading makes you smarter" business: their adoptive parents made them read, go to school, etc.

When they grew up they could stop reading if they liked.

Linda Seebach said...

The important thing about the adoption studies is that if even such a massive intervention as changing families has no permanent effect on adult IQ, then lesser interventions (going to a better or worse school, for instance) are unlikely to have any permanent effect either. The quality of schools and teaching can certainly affect academic performance. That's why they are important, not because they raise or lower IQ.

Also, Robertson has to neglect this research because it is incompatible with the claims he makes about the French adoption study.

Catherine Johnson said...

Hi, Linda!

My understanding of the literature is that a good school raises your IQ to the upper regions of your "reaction range," which is pretty much genetically determined.

A bad school lowers your IQ to the bottom of your reaction range.

I think this is pretty much the same phenomenon we mean when we talk about kids "working up to potential" or "not working up to potential."

My question concerns the "ceiling."

If we assume the "top" of the reaction range is a point, or something like a point, can that point be raised or lowered?

I wouldn't be surprised if you can raise the ceiling.

That seems to be what athletics has accomplished over the years.

Athletic records keep being broken thanks to superb coaching and training techniques.

I think the Brookings paper argues that general athleticism, amongst regular folk, continues to rise in various sports, too....but I'm going to have to re-read before I say that.

In any case, we're getting into the "Flynn effect" here.

IQs have been going up while (presumably) genetics have remained stable.

I gather IQs have stopped rising, but that doesn't alter the fact that for many decades IQ was rising.