Arnold Kling  

Does Education Matter?

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Tino writes,


The mean score of Americans with European ancestry is 524, compared to 506 in Europe, when first and second generation immigrants are excluded.

He concludes that the American school system is actually better, if one makes what he admits is a crude adjustment for demographics (with no adjustment for demographics, European scores are better). However, what might happen if you had a sophisticated way to adjust for the ability of children entering school? Would all of the differences between school systems become insignificant?

Thanks to Tyler Cowen for the pointer. As my post on teacher evaluation indicated (note: be sure to read Fabio Rojas' disagreement with me in the comments), I think that there is a good case for extreme skepticism on the ability of teachers, education systems, or schooling methods to make a meaningful long-term difference.


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COMMENTS (8 to date)
JPIrving writes:

IQ is everything. IQ varies by ethnic group.

Chris T writes:

This has bothered me in the past, our discourse acts as though the American education system is uniformly under performing compared to other nations (the same goes for health care). Pointing out that the scores vary considerably along ethnic/immigrant lines can lead to very unpleasant consequences.

Evan writes:
IQ is everything.
Not quite everything. Conscientiousness is really important too. There's not much point to having a high IQ if you don't have the inherent work ethic to put it to use. I don't know if there have been any studies about if Conscientiousness varies by ethnic group, but I do know it's 40-50% hereditable, so it might. I strongly suspect that conscientiousness is influenced by culture, so it might in the sense that ethnic groups often have different cultures.
George Arias writes:

Given the huge immigrant population in Western Europe, largely from Africa and the Medeast,
the adjustment of US data seems one sided. Since PC Europe does not collect data that would allow the exclusion of this cohort, we will never be able to make the appropriate comparison.

ziel writes:

George - Huge? Not sure about that - I believe the upper bound estimate is 10% in France. According to the World Factbook: Germany - "German 91.5%, Turkish 2.4%, other 6.1% (made up largely of Greek, Italian, Polish, Russian, Serbo-Croatian, Spanish)". England is at least 92% British ("white (of which English 83.6%, Scottish 8.6%, Welsh 4.9%, Northern Irish 2.9%) 92.1%, black 2%, Indian 1.8%, Pakistani 1.3%, mixed 1.2%, other 1.6% (2001 census)"

So in comparison to the U.S., where under-performing minorities are 26% of the population, I wouldn't call it "huge."

MichaelM writes:

This same general pattern holds if you use the same demographic adjustment in wide areas of 'public policy statistics' (the general measurements used by policy wonks and the people who read policy wonks). European-Americans earn more than their relatives who stayed in Europe, they score better on standardized tests, etc etc.

This helps to highlight an important point: Inequality in the US isn't about wealthy capitalists exploiting poor workers, like the popular culture picture of inequality says it is, but rather it's about poor, usually inner-city minorities who just cannot keep up with the wealthier suburban and small-town American economy.

Why this is happening is a very important question. Perhaps the single most important question of American political economy for the next half-century, at least. How we address this problem is going to determine the long term course of the American polity.

michael writes:

Education isn't hard to get right. If the most basic incentives aren't removed it is easy to educate any willing pupil.

Close the public schools. No more self-esteem classes. No more home ec. Vouchers for the poor.

This isn't exactly a new industry.

I know, I know. If that's so simple why the debate?

The debate isn't about teaching kids how to read. It's about equity and social justice. Etc.

Schepp writes:

Education is not all about formalism. Two weeks ago a convienence store clerk unloaded six $1 dollar coins on me. I spent 5 and left the sixth on kitchen counter with my other change. My son noticed it last week and struggled to determine if it was real or not, and I tried to keep from giving him an indication of its value. I could tell he put it in context with its weight and markings and knew it was real, with his own insight.

My view is that kids learn when necessity imposes itself on them. Social skills for their current situation are not in short supply. The question is will we in and out of school put our kids in situations where they will need to learn something now that will be of great value to themselves in the future.

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