Is IQ the Be-All and End-All When It Comes To College, Etc?

Last week in the Wall Street Journal, Bell Curve author Charles Murray plumped for the related ideas that "Our ability to improve the academic accomplishment of students in the lower half of the distribution of intelligence is severely limited" and that "too many Americans are going to college."

At TCS Daily today, Arnold Kling responds thus:

Historically, European and Japanese youth were subjected to very severe tracking. An exam taken in one's early teens would determine whether the person is destined for higher education or for trade school. What Murray is suggesting strikes me as similar.

Formal tracking is distasteful, for a number of reasons. First, I believe that it is better to have multiple, competing elites than to go the route of having an "upper class" and a "lower class." Disparate elites are more easily penetrated by outsiders, which is important. Disparate elites also provide natural checks and balances. A unified elite would be a frightening proposition.

Second, the American narrative rests on equal opportunity. We know that people are born with advantages and disadvantages, but we like to think that we provide reasonable chances for people to overcome disadvantages and move up the social and economic ladder. Making college accessible to as many people as possible may represent a misguided attempt to err on the side of providing opportunities for upward mobility that are not realistic. However, formal tracking policies err in the other direction, by restricting opportunity. As an American, I see holding someone down with an artificial ceiling as a much more serious offense than extending a futile helping hand that fails to lift someone up....

I do not know what education models would emerge in a dynamic market. However, unless human ability is as rigid and one-dimensional as Charles Murray presumes, a dynamic market would produce diverse educational methods and opportunities rather than tracking into an educational hierarchy.

Whole response, well worth reading, here. It's worth underscoring what Kling says above: Murray's bits in the WSJ do not explicitly argue in favor of increased tracking, though that's a clear implication.

Future Nobel laureate James Heckman exhaustive critiqued The Bell Curve for Reason here.

Ronald Bailey and I interviewed Murray about a more recent book, 2003's Human Accomplishment, here.

Brian Doherty looked at the not-so-secret history of the SAT here.

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  • ||

    I think Murray's on the wrong track. The best predictor for college success is high school grades. That might be an indictment of both institutions, but they aren't there to measure intelligence, but to reward hard work. I have a fine IQ, but got middling grades in high school because I never studied. This pattern was repeated in college. The bottom line is that intelligence is only a small part of the equation. The willingness to work hard and defer gratification is far more critical and, as a whole, better represents the American tradition.

    Murray appears to argue that the system should be engaged in a sort of social engineering where underacheivers are subjected to pep talks and have the way smoothed in front of them, while children who are merely highly disciplined and hardworking should be quietly discouraged from setting too goals that are too lofty for their puny intellects.

    Frankly, he sounds like a guy who been believing his whole life that he's smarter than his boss and the "system" is holding him back.

  • Sam Franklin||

    If only there was some way of measuring wealth mobility in quantitative terms, then we could compare the US to Japan and Europe in this regard and see how the systems really compare in actual practice.

  • ||

    They're trying to do away with Gattaca!

  • TrappedEastOfTHeBigMuddy||

    > The best predictor for college success is high school grades. [...]
    > I have a fine IQ, but got middling grades in high school because
    > I never studied. This pattern was repeated in college.
    > The bottom line is that [...] willingness to work hard and
    > defer gratification is [...] critical

    Similar pattern here, but after a year in the real world I went to grad school[*] despite the lack of a paid assistantship and did very well there.

    So how do I fit in? To your point of view or---for that matter---Murray's.

    To support your interpertation: for grad school I caught a very bad case of discipline and hard-work. I still suffer the lingering effects, but I am getting a little better.

    [*] Grad school serves as a decent definition of delayed gratification.

  • ||

    Heckman really knocks Murray out of the park. Fast and loose with the numbers, conclusions that clearly precede, rather than follow, the data. There is no reason to be discussing the implications of his conclusions, as if they're incontrobertable.

    C'mon, where's that vaunted skepticism we always see on the global warming threads?

  • ||

    I also got middling grades in high school, along with a number of lectures about the disparity between my standardized test scores and my GPA. Yet, in college, when I fell in love with my chosen majors, I did quite well.

    The problem with using HS grades as a predictor is that they don't account for motivation, or lack thereof. Of course, neither do IQ or standardized test scores.

  • emme||

    "Heckman really knocks Murray out of the park."

    The APA had a task force come up with a report on the findings of the Bell Curve. Straight from Wiki:

    Many of the task force's findings supported or were consistent with statements from The Bell Curve. They agreed that:

    IQ scores have high predictive validity for individual differences in school achievement.

    IQ scores have predictive validity for adult occupational status, even when variables such as education and family background have been statistically controlled.

    Individual differences in intelligence are substantially influenced by genetics.

    Individual differences in intelligence are substantially influenced by environment as well.

    There is little evidence to show that childhood diet influences intelligence except in cases of severe malnutrition.

    There are no significant differences between the IQ scores of males and females.

  • ||

    Just another example, not unlike when Reagan started the present drug and anti-civil rights war, that shows what conservatives have wanted all along is EU socialism, with just a dash of Uncle Joe Stalin thrown for good measure.

    It's just that they would call their party "Loyalists" rather than "The Party".

    The conservatives of America are as opposed to freedom as they were back in 1776 when they opposed the revolution by calling the founders "levelers". (for you libertarians who oppose personal liberty unless it is based on the fact that you believe human beings are property, rather than entities that are free based on their birthright, that word has evolved into "re-distributionists")

  • ||

    emme,

    Read Heckman's piece. It's not the predictive value of IQ scores that's the problem, but the connection between IQ and the genetics that are said to control it.

  • ||

    "The best predictor for college success is high school grades. That might be an indictment of both institutions, but they aren't there to measure intelligence, but to reward hard work. I have a fine IQ, but got middling grades in high school because I never studied. This pattern was repeated in college."

    Had you applied yourself, you'd now understand just how stupid your theory is.

  • ||

    I completely disagree about IQ determining if a student is qualified for college. However, the WSJ did make one valid point. Students shouldn't automatically head for college right out of high school. Today, college is more like an extremely expensive right of passage than preparation for a career. The high number of want ads for college graduates that accept all majors show that the jobs aren't related to the coursework. The high number of first years who don't know their major shows that most students haven't thought much about what skills college should teach them. I think 99% of students should work for 2 years before college. With longer life expectancy, the 2 years hiatus doesn't subtract much from a post college career. The added experience means that students will focus more on career preparation while in school. If students start demanding better career preparation, teachers will respond to that demand. The biggest barrier is admissions officials who falsely see not going strait to college as a failing.

    If I could start again at 18 and it was socially acceptable, I would go that route.

  • emme||

    "Read Heckman's piece. It's not the predictive value of IQ scores that's the problem, but the connection between IQ and the genetics that are said to control it."

    Joe,

    Read the APA's report.

    "Individual differences in intelligence are substantially influenced by genetics. "

  • ||

    Students shouldn't automatically head for college right out of high school. Today, college is more like an extremely expensive right of passage than preparation for a career.

    I agree. I also like your idea of working for two years and then going to college. It gives you more time to learn what you like and dislike in life, and it gives more time to mature intellectually.

  • Ron Hardin||

    move up the social and economic ladder

    The ladder of opportunity! Second only to the crab of debauch, the shark of individual debasement and the snail of idiocy!

  • ||

    I actually did wait two years before going to college. I found that I was more mature, more committed and more focused than most of my classmates. I went to the college I was sure I wanted and never thought about changing my major. I also freed myself of the illusion of the Track which most kids that age seem to be burdened with.

    That being said, any kind of expected/mandatory two year waiting period is just as silly as any expected/mandatory rush to get there.

  • ||

    Does anybody see the need the school choice in this argument?

    The demand for private vocational school is huge (just watch daytime TV), people should be given a choice - waste time in high school or go to a vocational school of their choice. Tax payers are probably already paying for most of it already (school loans).

  • ||

    Few stupid people realize they're stupid. They beleive they haven't gotten anywhere because something or somebody is holding them back. This belief explains the appeal of conspiracy theories.

  • ||

    Murray has always been one to work within the "system." Most of us here are fine with staying outside the "system."
    Those who work within the system have the insatiable urge to see changes and to claim credit for them. Those who work outside can see that the only changes within the system will be for the worse.
    If "too many Americans are going to college," the system should stop the subsidies that are causing it. But that won't happen.
    Determining who should go to college should be based on the individual's desire, and their ability--or their parents'--to pay for it; not their IQ.

  • ||

    The problem with using HS grades as a predictor is that they don't account for motivation, or lack thereof. Of course, neither do IQ or standardized test scores.

    Amen. I waited four years after HS before starting college. And in HS, I swore I would never go to college so I didn't study. Now I have a PhD.

    What scares me, are the people who think that a 4.0 GPA (or close to it) in college is an indication of who the best and brightest are. My experience (unconventional as this will sound) is that people in the 3.5 GPA band, plus or minus a little, are actually better overall.

    If you got a 4.0 in college, then what you were best at was finding out what was going to be on the exams. This is probably a good skill for some professions, but not science and technology.

    I knew a lot of 4.0'er's in college who couldn't publish their research. Because their research basically sucked. Because, they were basically lazy. But their committees passed them because "hey, look at that GPA".

    In my book, getting grades that are too high is a strike against you. High grades by themselves are no indication of motivation.

    Raw intelligence, by itself, is utterly worthless.

  • lovecat||

    Depends on the field of study. If you go to Occidental College, are black, and have a low IQ, you might get an "A" in "Whiteness",(One of the current course offerings at Oxy) if you are at least smart enough to write some politically correct stuff. You might even graduate with honors in "race & gender studies". But for mathematics or physics, you need the IQ.

  • ||

    Sure, you need the native intelligence to make it. I'm an engineer, I know that not any dummy could be one.

    But there's the story of the smartest guy I think I ever met. Every class I was in with him, he just ate it alive. Pretty much always head and shoulders above the rest of the class. He consistently killed the curve on exams.

    But he never got his PhD, because he couldn't keep his hyperactive brain in focus on one thing long enough to produce a dissertation. His advisor threw him out after begging him for three years to get to it.

    There's also all the 4.0 people I saw who got the big NASA fellowships (and the like), who turned around and fairly consistently produced mediocre research. [which I gage by the fact that they had a lot of trouble getting their work accepted in peer reviewed journals]

    My beef is, that there needs to be more than the IQ test to measure probability of success.

  • Mister Chips||

    Back in the day in the ol' USA, one could become a doctor, lawyer, engineer,head of an investment brokerage house,President of the United States etc without any college at all.
    Perhaps it is largely a huge waste of resources and time- except for the credential.
    Somenoe pointed out that near universal college
    education turns the potential cream of technicians into mediocre middle managers.

  • ||

    Somenoe pointed out that near universal college
    education turns the potential cream of technicians into mediocre middle managers.


    That's because management pays better (and oddly enough, you don't have to work as hard because you don't have to stay on top of technology).

    Someone estimated that in the mid 1990's, something like 85% of all the researchers who had ever worked in human history were alive at that time.

    There's a whole lot more to know today than there was back in the good old days. I don't think college is a waste of resources.

    OTOH, it may be true that too many people are going to college today. I don't know about that.

  • ||

    Gotta agree with jtuf and NAL. I did horrible in college right after HS for a variety of reasons. One of the main ones was that I was just sorta burned-out with school. Taking a couple of years to just work would have probably been good for me.

    Now, I'm back at Univerisity after a 10 year hiatus. Only time will tell if I'm one of the "too many" people going to college and whether I changed my previous wicked ways when it comes to doing all the course work. :)

  • Mister Chips||

    That's because management pays better

    Why? It is not a factor of supply and demand in labor markets. We don't import managers. No one ever bemoans a shortage of managers. Mediocre middle managers can't quit their jobs and find 6 more tomorrow. The market is distorted by corporate culture and classism.

  • wayne||

    I would like to point out that Heckman is an economist... Critiqing the genetic aspects of IQ. I would also like to point out that at this point in time Mr. Heckman is still a FUTURE nobel laureate, so there is no need to grovel at his feet yet.

    This (lack of qualification in genetics) does not completely disqualify Heckman, but neither does it offer great comfort to those who seem desparate to disconnect IQ from genetics.

  • ||

    Is IQ the Be-All and End-All When It Comes To College, Etc?
    Did anyone claim that it was?

    Re. the I'm smart and got bad grades and the someone else (of course) was dumb and got good grades comments. Well, duh. That's why the correlation between IQ and [whatever] is never 1.000.

    I would like to point out that Heckman is an economist... Critiqing the genetic aspects of IQ.
    None of Murray's statements of fact are controversial to people familiar with the subject matter, so, if you prefer the appearance of controversy, just get some "He's Not a Real Lawyer, but He Played One in Connecticut" kinda guys to generate it.

  • wayne||

    Frankly, the notion that IQ is not heritable strikes me as utterly absurd.

    IQ is not the final arbiter of success, but it is a big deal. If you have a high IQ, you might fail college anyway. If you have a low IQ, you WILL fail college. Oh, I suppose you might get a BA in some politically correct field, but you will not get a BS in physics, or math, etc.

  • ||

    It seems to me that the higher up you go the degree ladder, the more future progress depends on focus and persistence than on any sort of native intelligence. And it continues beyond there. Lots of people get tenured/promoted based on churning out lots of mediocre papers (see "least publishable unit"), and this is no less true in the experimental sciences than in non-science fields. I know lots of field biologists who go out and collect data every weekend, and then every six months have enough to run some statistical analysis and publish a paper. Do this for several years, and you have a research program worthy of tenure and promotion. It's not rocket science, but it does require you to stick to the program for several years, something my hyperactive brain has never been too good at either.

    Regarding tracking, I do believe that as a matter of principle, any student who wants to go to college ought to be able to give it a shot. There are two problems with this, though:

    1) colleges consume a great deal of resources on remediation and "support" of these students, way out of proportion to the cost of educating "regular" students. Even then, their chances of actually graduating are small, and they have racked up a hefty tab for tutoring, mentoring, study skills workshops, etc., that have essentially been subsuduzed by other students and/or taxpayers.
    2) The latest trend in public college funding is toward funding based on "productivity measures", the two most common of these being retention and graduation rates. Nobody in academia disputes the proposition that admitting more underprepared students will send both these measures on a downward spiral, with potentially disastrous implications for the budget. No university president is going to take the chance, which means that if these productivity measures are more widely adopted as a basis for funding, you will see universities tighten up on admission requirements.

    The basic law of college governance is this. You can have goals of:
    --easy access to the system (low admission standards), or
    --high retention/graduation rates, or
    --quality academic programs.
    Choose any two.

    This is the difficult choice that governing boards, especially at public universities, are simply refusing to make. There will be long-term consequences.

  • ||

    "subsuduzed" is not a word. Should be "subsidized". It's not my fault, really. I blame my inferior American education for not making me learn to touch-type.

  • wayne||

    Joe, you said, "Read Heckman's piece. It's not the predictive value of IQ scores that's the problem, but the connection between IQ and the genetics that are said to control it."

    I just read it. For those of you who plan to read it, I must warn you that it is extremely dense, even worse than the Bell Curve. Heckman should get the nobel prize because he is incomprefuckinghensible.

    Having read it though, I don't think Joe did. As far as I can tell Heckman seems mildly convinced that IQ is a heritable trait. although I confess that my eyes were glazed often so I might not have understood Heckman's point.

  • Larry A||

    I think 99% of students should work for 2 years before college.

    Never happen. If most freshmen in college had enough experience to look professors in the eye and say, "That's a fine-sounding theory, but it doesn't work for shit in the real world," universities would implode.

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