Hispanic fourth graders in Florida do better

elephant 003Sometimes ideas that make sense are not scientifically valid. Here is an example: Hispanic fourth graders did better on fourth grade reading tests than Hispanics in any other state. Does this mean Florida’s high-stakes testing and no child left behind programs are working?

Politifact pointed out in theTampa Bay Times on February 16, 2015, that another possible reason Florida Hispanics did so well is the influence of Florida’s Cuban immigrants who generally come from a higher social class than Mexican immigrants in other states. As pointed out in The Elephant in the Classroom, social class is a powerful variable.

But even if past research shows that fourth-graders who read better are going to be more successful when it comes to graduation from high school, that doesn’t mean that simply pumping up fourth grade reading scores is going to have a significant influence or outcome. This is because the higher scores in the past reflected many other influences including mental ability, family support, self-control, etc. Pumping up the reading scores for all children now, in the fourth grade may not influence the child’s future significantly. Science is tricky, isn’t it?

Another example is IQ testing. One of many subtests on the standard battery is comprised of putting blocks together to form designs. Some people thought this activity represented intelligence and that if children were taught to be proficient in the use of blocks their IQ’s would increase. No, putting blocks together is one of thousands of developmental markers that could have been Incorporated into an IQ test. Getting better at manipulating blocks will not affect the overall IQ.

Life is complicated. This is why I enjoy the saying “Man plans and God laughs.”


Your child: college or career?

What if your child has the academic ability, self-control and motivation necessary for college, but is tempted to pursue career training? Which way to go? Your child may be able to do both, regardless of where he/she begins, but students with very high academic ability will probably benefit the most and contribute more to society by attending college. This isn’t always the case, of course, and some very bright individuals have left college in order to follow up on creative insights and start programs that are financially rewarding and important to society.

In some ways the university world is a non-real world. It’s a think tank, a finishing school, and a self-congratulatory system that feeds the ego. But it is also an incubator of professional classes such as professors, physicians, lawyers, accountants, engineers, and scientists. From this system, our country expects leadership and the discovery of things that presently don’t exist. These innovations will come from the top 1%-10% of our academic strivers.elephant 003

Is college where the money is?

Research shows that with the exception of vocational type college majors such as engineering, accounting and finance, career students probably do as well or better than average college grads — those majoring in the humanities and other liberal arts areas such as sociology. And engineering is not for everyone. Only the top 5% or 10% have the ability and drive for these more difficult programs.

In addition, there should be no student or parent fees for public school career training, and students may be able to put money in their pockets at age 16 or 17 rather than at age 22 or 23, which is often the case with students today who struggle through college. It cost about $120,000 (loans, tuition, plus the cost for leaving the workforce for 4-5 years) to pursue a college education. Mark Peters and Douglas Belkin, “Bachelor’s Degree Payoff Can Seem Elusive,” The Wall Street Journal, June 25, 2014.

And that six-year difference between age 24 and age 17 represents 29% of the 24-year-old student’s life at that time!

Let’s remember that undergraduate loans alone are in the neighborhood of $30,000 and yet the February – March 2014 Gallup Poll of 30,000 college graduates showed that only 4% of those with an undergraduate debt of $30,000 were thriving in their work environment.

There are lots of good things about college, but money should probably not be the primary motivator.elephant 003

The Elephant in the Classroom.


Your child needs help in college

elephant 003Does your child need special help in college? If so, there could be many reasons, including poor high school preparation, learning disabilities, etc.

Research, and my personal experience working with children for 30 years, puts poor preparation at the top of the list. Why would this be? College-bound high school students are often “creamed off” to special programs, and those remaining are in blended classes where their progress is slowed by students who don’t have the interest in, or ability for, college.

We need to let the vast majority of students, who see career studies as more relevant than abstract academic work, participate in career work beginning in middle school and early high school. This would free up the smaller number of college-prep students who haven’t been creamed off to other special programs, to take accelerated classes with their peers.

Another real possibility is that college is not the best choice for your child. The majority of students don’t have the motivation or academic ability needed for true college work, but still strive for a college degree because of social pressure. Some people still think everyone should attend college, but this isn’t a good idea. It can be a very expensive venture without much to show for it at the end. Career education can yeild short term and long term financial and personal benefits.


Is I.Q. for real? Ask the Elephant

elephant 003Several groups have challenged the stability of intellectual ability over time, or believe IQ can be changed. Malcolm Gladwell popularized the 10 year or 10,000 hour rule. He believes you don’t have to be a genius to succeed; you just have to spend 10 years working at something for 20 hours each week. This is based on work by K. Anders Ericsson. “Is Genius a Simple Matter of Hard Work?” Terry Teachout, The Wall Street Journal, November 12, 2000.

Research has challenged the “10,000 hours of practice as a key to success,” however. Scientists measured the working memory capacity of pianists and found memory made quite a difference. Pianists with above average working memory accomplished more in the same amount of time than pianists with less working memory. That being the case, the total number of practice hours required to achieve is much less for people with higher intelligence.

There may have been an increase in some IQ subtest scores over decades but no uniform increase in intelligence. James R. Flynn has examined cognitive trends over time and finds that individuals are stronger in some cognitive areas than in the past. Flynn suggests that people have greater abstract ability and that this ability is influenced by experience and culture.

But if we are really smarter today, we would expect to see an increase in all IQ subtests. This is not the case. Flynn’s research is interesting and important, but it’s not relevant to The Elephant in the Classroom because here we are comparing today’s children with each other and not with children from previous generations. James R. Flynn, What Is Intelligence? Cambridge University Press, 2007.

Yep, I.Q. is for real, and ignoring it is short-sighted.