Arnold Kling  

Bruce Charlton on IQ, Education, and Signaling

Pet Health Care Theories... Shorter Scott Sumner...

He writes,

...modern societies are currently vastly over-provided with formal education, and this education has the wrong emphasis. In particular, the job of sorting people by their general aptitude could be done more accurately, cheaply and quickly by using psychometrics to measure IQ and Conscientiousness.

Read the whole thing.

I think that the probability that Charlton's Caplan-esque views become widely accepted is about one in ten thousand. I would say there is a slightly higher chance, about five in ten thousand, that someday he will be imprisoned for his views.

Charlton thinks that the education industry ought to shrink. This view is the antithesis of Goldin and Katz, who think that the education industry should expand. I think that the probability that they are correct is no higher than for Charlton, but they have much better chances of getting their views accepted and much less chance of having to go to prison.

My bet (which is hardly a sure thing) is that the current size of the industry reflects some tacit knowledge in the market that is being missed by all sides in the debate.

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COMMENTS (12 to date)
Mike writes:

To what extent has civil rights law forced education, rather than testing, to become our society's means of sorting?

As I understand it, an employer can be sued if he uses a test that has a disparate impact on minorities, even if he can show that test has relevance to the job and even if it is not his intent to discriminate on race or gender.

Is requiring a bachelor's degree for a position as legally problematic?

Granite26 writes:

I can't help but view education as a positive outcome in and of itself.

I know that schooling and certification may not be the most efficient way to achieve education, but the net effect should certainly be judged with a healthy + for extra knowledge, even if there isn't a corresponding financial gain.

Colin K writes:
I would say there is a slightly higher chance, about five in ten thousand, that someday he will be imprisoned for his views.

That made me laugh out loud. Sad, but so very true.

@Mike: The applied law on testing in the private sector is a bit of a minefield. Psychometric tests like the MMPI are used by some large corporations but lawsuits are commonly won by plaintiffs, while less-intricate tests (aka integrity tests, which focus mostly on neuroticism/conscientiousness) are more permissible since they require less subjective interpretation of results. They also tell you a lot less, and as a result are less useful. One client of mine (I work in HR software) used both a high-quality integrity test and a thorough background check, and found that the correlation between people who failed the test and people who failed the BG check was sufficiently high as to make the use of the test superfluous. In theory the test can point towards high-risk people who have not yet been caught, but the utility of this seem to vary.

Very straightforward skill tests are fairly clean, so long as the skill being tested is clearly relevant to the job. For instance, an arithmetic test clearly makes sense for a blackjack dealer or bank teller, and would be permitted so long as the pass-fail score can be shown to relate to job performance. Basic calculus however would probably not fly, even if you could demonstrate that people who knew calculus made better dealers, since knowing calculus is mostly going to correlate with a high level of education and socioeconomic status.

The big daddy, IQ tests, are all but verboten, the main exception being the SAT and other standardized tests used in higher education and occasionally university recruiting by businesses. Colleges enjoy a sort of common-law deference to their rights to "hire" the smartest students for that reason alone, while businesses are less lucky, and have to use things like the name on the sheepskin as proxies, resulting in competition and higher salaries for students from prestigious schools.

The counter-example is the US military, where the ASVAB/AFQT/etc functions largely as a thinly-veiled proxy for IQ. The military has more institutional experience than anyone when it comes to testing and job performance, and they use it heavily. Coincidentally or not, the military, and the Army in particular, is arguably the largest and most successfully-integrated institution in racial terms in the country.

Colin K writes:


Increased education may be a positive outcome in and of itself for the individual, but not as a sorting mechanism for social equality.

The problem here is that education in general, and fancy name-brand education in particular, correlates heavily with socioeconomic status, and probably will continue to for another hundred years or so even if we try very very hard to change it. It is one thing for Harvard to accept a black kid from a wealthy suburb of Atlanta who is a few points light on his SAT, but another to take a well-scoring white kid from the projects in Charlestown with a petty arrest record and thick accent. There's no lack of good intentions but the cultural habits of the institutions take decades to budge.

Employers have a very strong incentive to find highly-capable but under-appreciated people, arguably a much more direct one than universities. IQ tests would arguably allow companies to measure capability without the confounding signals that come from using university education as a proxy.

Pareto writes:

If everyone's using psychometrics, won't prospective employees cheat on the tests?

Rick Stewart writes:

More education is no guarantee of more educated. Many students learn close to nothing in either high school or college, if learning implies remembering something after the last exam is over. Some of my own education fell into the 'no learning' category.

As an employer I always sorted resumes based on SAT scores. It wasn't perfect, but it seemed better than the alternatives (GPA, degree, fancy school, job title at fancy company, etc.).

hacs writes:

I don't agree with Bruce Charlton, but if that is implemented then it would be better to measure IQ before any higher impact (bias) from the environment (or schooling), perhaps, six, seven or eight years old children.

Troy Camplin writes:

I don't think it's tacit knowledge. I think it is the same kind of thing that resulted in the housing bubble -- government encouraging a bubble, especially among those who have no business getting involved in the market. I have taught too many people who have no business being in college. They are there because college is pushed from every direction, even though there isn't really that large of a demand for college degrees. I think the fact that more and more jobs require Master's degrees shows how devalued the Bachelor's degree has become.

I have written a few things on education published in the Dallas Morning News. I have written on the need for trade schools:

and on the dumbing down of education:

I am of the opinion that we need to provide an education for our children that will make it possible for them to get jobs.

I say this as someone with a Ph.D., and who is thinking of getting another one -- in economics at GMU, if possible.

Vichy F. writes:

"I know that schooling and certification may not be the most efficient way to achieve education, but the net effect should certainly be judged with a healthy + for extra knowledge, even if there isn't a corresponding financial gain."
Or it may be that it acts to certify incompetents who paste together meaningless information out of 'official' statistics and call it scholarship. When education is this regulated, subsidized and PC-fied it's probably at least as likely to initiate a regression of knowledge as add anything to it. The differences between American higher education (much less the government education which precedes and shapes much of it) and the socialist-of-the-chair universities in Germany and Russia is not so great as is generally imagined.

People aren't being taught, they're being fed.

Dr. T writes:

Granite26 writes:

I can't help but view education as a positive outcome in and of itself.

That's a nice sentiment, but very few college students become educated. We have many colleges and universities, but few institutes of higher learning. We have many college students, but few who are ready and able to learn. They attend college for the 'signal' or to prolong adolescence. Real learning is too much work, especially since most students never were taught how to learn.

Education is a mess from bottom to top. If we had better teaching (and better learning) in K-12, there would be much less need for college. At present, most of what is taught in college was high school level material two generations ago. College is so watered down that professions that used to require bachelor's degrees now require masters degrees. Education for most white collar jobs should not require six or more years of college. We need to fix this problem before it worsens.

Dave writes:

I agree with Dr T and Troy
My students - 1/5 care and do what I consider acceptable work for college students; another, say 2/5, are ok but in the mid 1980s (when I went to college) would have been solid C students; the rest should not be in college. I have four main gripes - 1) the BS that technology, the internet, etc, is indispensable and somehow having internet access means students are learning more - no way! When I was a student, for example, to retrieve gov docs you had to go to a basement in the library and wade through some poorly indexed or shelved advance sheets CFR etc to find gov stats. Now its all online. Do I ever see this in paper? No. Even though its online and effortless to obtain, students do not take advantage of computer technology to use this info (for whatever its worth - I had to throw that in). I had one student, whose helicopter parents complained about his D, petulantly say he "never uses books" when writing his papers. Wow. Students want professors to give them PowerPoint presentations and lecture notes online - how do they develop listening skills, note taking skills. When I am in court or a deposition, no one gives me their notes. When I was at meetings in a past career or investigating white collar crime, no one gave me their testimony, etc - I had to listen critically. Technology can’t replace this (but saying your campus is fully wired and handing out laptops makes good press)
2) Many students have poor writing skills. Some of my faves from papers - "I'm loving it" "I'm liking it" "President Roosevelt got in the Supreme Court's face" college or a street corner? Grammar, syntax - no not needed.
3) Many students are simply not "college material". I got that term from my mother. She would say that one of my older siblings was not college material - she was right. He wasted his time for a while in college. What does he do now? He is a contractor. He is a very skilled carpenter (nothing wrong with that).
I see countless students who are just wasting their time. College is a place to go instead of working - to extend adolescence - a place to party - a place to anything but study.
4) Students are not taught to think critically, especially in the liberal arts. They are being indoctrinated.

The bottom line - are these young people being educated just because they sit in a classroom.

Dave writes:

I agree with Troy and the other Dave. Increased education spending is a result of easier education credit. The percentage of Americans gaining quality and useful educations has probably not changed so much in the last few decades.

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