Arnold Kling  

Back to School Edition

What Professors Want... Turmoil in Financial Markets...

Charles Murray says college admissions offices should stop using the SAT and instead use the SAT 2's (what we used to call the achievement tests).

Getting rid of the SAT will destroy the coaching industry as we know it.

...A coaching industry that teaches content along with test-taking techniques will have the additional advantage of being much better pedagogically—at least the students who take the coaching courses will be spending some of their time learning history or chemistry.

The substitution of achievement tests for the SAT will put a spotlight on the quality of the local high school’s curriculum. If achievement test scores are getting all of the parents’ attention in the college admissions process, the courses that prepare for those achievement tests will get more of their attention as well, and the pressure for those courses to improve will increase.

Kay Hymowitz writes

Teen paid employment is at an all-time low; about 35% of teenagers are working at some point in the year, compared with close to half at the post-World War II peak in 1979. That's because for kids these days, summer is no different from the rest of the year; it's always time for education, or, more precisely, résumé-building.

In the junior-high and early high-school years, middle-class strivers spend summers at soccer, hockey, swim, diving or baseball camp to sharpen their athletic skills; they go to science, computer and arts camp to pump up their academic records. In their junior or senior year they jet off to exotic destinations to fill in the international travel/community service credential, building huts in Guatemala, supervising nursery-schoolers in South Africa or, as one company offers, reforesting fruit trees in Fiji. And then, finally, for many older teens, it's an internship, a part-time, usually unpaid, job-lite at an office in a business or nonprofit organization.

Her description of teenage extracurricular experience these days seems right on target. Affluent teenagers are spending an incredible amount of time abroad, while they are becoming increasingly out of touch with rural and small-town America.

My first two summers in college I worked in a factory. I also took the first semester of my sophomore year off to work for a couple of months as an unpaid intern in the office of Senator Hubert Humphrey. I think that both experiences were valuable.

Hymowitz is the author of Marriage and Caste in America, in which she says that affluent parents act as if they were on a "mission" to raise affluent children. My guess is that, however uneasy Hymowitz or I might feel about the craze for internships and foreign travel, the families that are part of these trends are doing the right thing.

Victor Lavy and Analía Schlosser write,

The evidence provided in this paper suggests that a higher proportion of female peers improves scholastic achievements among both boys and girls. The effects seem to be larger at higher proportions of girls in the classroom, in particular, beyond 55 percent. These effects do not appear to be generated entirely by spillover effects of girls’ achievements. Interestingly, a higher proportion of girls in a class increases the likelihood of enrollment in advanced classes in math and science among boys while the effects among girls are not precise enough to be identified.

An exploration of the mechanisms of the gender peer effects shows that a higher proportion of females in a class leads to a better classroom and learning environment. Students who have more female peers report a lower level of classroom violence and disruption, better relationships with other students and teachers, and a higher level of satisfaction with their school. The effects on improved classroom environment appear to come from a change in the classroom composition and not from changes in students’ individual behavior or in their study effort. The benefit from a higher proportion of girls in the classroom is also due to lower fatigue and burnout among teachers, which probably affects their productivity.

Tyler Cowen pointed to this last piece. The first two articles I found on Arts and Letters Daily.

Comments and Sharing

COMMENTS (6 to date)
Bruce G Charlton writes:

I thought the Murray article was pretty incoherent - and in the UK we are trying to shift away from the kind of exams he advocates (due to huge inflation of grades and increasing cheating on coursework) and towards SATs.

But from what I read, it seems possible that the supposed resume-buffing of some Americans may be an error. As I understand, Asian Americans are by far the most successful group academically, and I believe that they are focused heavily on academic studies and do not go in for building-up extra-curricular CVs.

Yet, looking at the SAT averages and distributions of US colleges it looks very much as if the colleges are in reality (whatever the theory) selecting mainly on the basis of SATs (or something closely correlated with SAT results).

My suspicion is that the parental (and high school) emphasis on extra-curricular resume is an error based on the way that things used to be, when elite colleges used to be focused on the upper classes and their specific cultural values.

But now, and increasingly, colleges are about specialized abstract cognitive skills such as are measured by the SAT - especially the mathematics side. Academically-ambitious upper class American parents and their kids would be better advised to emulate the Asian Americans and join maths/ science out-of-school clubs than enrolling their kids into sports, arts and 'good works'.

Chuck writes:

So the idea is that the teen job rate dropped from 50 to 35 because affluent teens are resume building instead of working? I think that would explain half the trend at best. I doubt that all college bound affluent teens used to work, and I doubt that all of them are now resume building (the idea being that 35% of teen workers were lower class, while 15% were affluent, and they all stopped working).

I think more likely is that the jobs on offer for them are so anti-appealing that they simply put off work for as long as they possible can.

I think all you academic-types are projecting your norms onto a great big diverse population.

David Friedman writes:

My children are not only home schooled but unschooled--an approach I sometimes describe as throwing books at them and seeing which ones stick. This raises an obvious problem when they want to apply to college, as my daughter will soon be doing.

For us, Murray's suggestion would, I think, make things worse. The subject tests necessarily test the particular topics in those subjects that they expect to be taught in high school. But that is likely to correlate very poorly with what students who have followed their interests, rather than someone else's syllabus, happen to know.

I expect my daughter could give a clear explanation of the hawk/dove equilibrium in evolutionary biology--but she couldn't list the phyla of the aimal kingdom, which I suspect is a good deal more likely to be on a subject exam in biology. She is well informed on the kings of England, the life of William Marshall, and the institutions of saga period Iceland, but I expect there are a fair number of the standard historical dates that would leave her blank.

With a fairly small amount of advance studying she was able to do very well on the verbal SAT, and with perhaps twenty hours of work to do tolerably on the math SAT. But learning what she would need to do well on the SATII exams would, I suspect, require a lot of time spent learning things she has no particular interest in knowing.

spencer writes:

The other part of the teenage working story is the decline in the real minimum wage that makes working less attractive to teens.

If you think that having affluent kids exposed to working class American has some long term social value -- as you implied with your reference to working in a factory -- this would be one cost of the falling real minimum wage that is not brought into the discussion.

mak writes:

Despite scoring in the low thirteen-hundreds on the SAT, I nearly shot the moon on the SAT II's (particularly in physics, math, and U.S. history) and passed nine AP exams with 4's and 5's (with 5 being the best score on a 1-5 scale). As a high school junior I was better at physics and math than many college sophomores. I should have gone to school at Columbia or Chicago, but for personal/financial reasons ended up at the U. of Arizona instead. Even with its decent research reputation and a strong undergraduate curriculum, Arizona does not have a competitive student body--accepting over 80% of its applicants and graduating just a 57% of its students in 6-years time. Needless to say, I spent a lot of time drinking.

After four years of torture I'm now employed by a Fortune 500 corporation. At least the experience gave me a better understanding of the people I will one day be managing!

I'm all for using the SAT IIs--they identify the students who have the work ethic to master an academic subject rather than those with an innate cognitive ability.

8 writes:

I'd like to see the teenage workforce participation numbers by state. It would go a long way to settling part of the illegal immigration debate.

Comments for this entry have been closed
Return to top