Croker Sack

"Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard." — Henry Louis Mencken (1880-1956)

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

There is no Lake Wobegon

Charles Murray is trying again to get his point across:

Today's simple truth: Half of all children are below average in intelligence. We do not live in Lake Wobegon.

Efforts like "No Child Left Behind" may eventually make unavoidable the need to determine just how much can practically be done -- and may be helped along by incessant demands for more spending on public education. There is a point beyond which no amount of additional money spent on schools will change the outcome significantly.

As Murray notes, we don't know where that point is:

Some say that the public schools are so awful that there is huge room for improvement in academic performance just by improving education. There are two problems with that position. The first is that the numbers used to indict the public schools are missing a crucial component. 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.

In Washington state, many people are worried about the idea of basing a high school diploma on the statewide test known as the Washington Assessment of Student Learning. They can foresee having to refuse to give diplomas to a large number of students who cannot pass the "WASL."

But, if they cannot (or will not) do the academic work that receiving a diploma supposedly recognizes, why give them meaningless diplomas?

Before taking money away from other purposes (including the purposes to which the taxpayers would put that money if they keep it for their own uses) and spending it on public schools, shouldn't we at least admit that we need to answer the most basic question?


Post a Comment

<< Home