Friday, October 31, 2008

The (non)value of education: My experience as a professor convinces me that students do not learn much long-term that is independent of what they would learn anyway, given their IQ.

Let's attempt a test. The General Social Survey quizzed respondents with eleven basic science questions. I regressed their quiz scores on years of education and a measure of IQ. Here are the results:


OLS unstandardized coefficients (standardized coefficients in parentheses)

Years of education .038 (.107)
IQ .034 (.425)
Constant -4.05

N = 222

To give you an intuitive sense of the results, the model predicts that if you have an IQ of 100 and complete 12 years of school, your predicted science score is 8.6 (out of a 11). If you have the same IQ but finish 16 years of education, you're score is 8.9--not much of a difference. If, instead of being a high school grad with a 100 IQ, you have the same level of education but an IQ of 125, your predicted score is 10.2--a big improvement over 8.6.

I sometimes get the feeling in the classroom that I'm just going through the motions. Students learn plenty, but it's clear that it doesn't stick. These data are consistent with that impression. I'm inclined to think that a GREAT deal of time and resources are wasted. For many, college might do little more than condition students to adopt liberal values.

Oh how the country genuflects to that sacred idea--education. Unless it produces real, useful results, I say bullshit.

18 comments:

  1. Michael T9:20 AM

    A friend of mine is an Environmental Engineer. There's no reason to believe he's incompetent at his job (he's white, so no aa). He's rather placid but talks enthusiastically about his work, and I enjoy quizzing him about aspects of it. He's clearly knowledgeable about it and the related sciences. But I can't help the impression that what he knows of such things consists of independent or only loosely connected "globs" of knowledge in his mind, much the way high schoolers compartmentalize "chemistry" and "history" etc. This impression is born out by his astounding naivety and ignorance of the way the rest of society functions, or how the various segments of society are tied together.

    You can't be any slouch to work your way through the demanding math required to become an engineer. But I don't consider my friend "educated" at all. He's essentially been "trained" as an engineer.

    I suspect a great deal of the value of a high IQ lies in being able readily form connections between different strands of knowledge, producing a multiplier effect on every knew bit of knowledge gained, the more profound the knowledge, the greater the multiplier effect. The most formidable mental toolkit then would be logic and rational thinking, and also the "subject" to most likely reward intensive "training" with the greatest amount of flow-on effects.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Herrnsteian and Murray in the "the Bell Curve" cite a 1991 paper by two economist (Blackburn and Neumark) that find something similar. They modeled wages as a function of IQ and education and found that “the increase in the return for education has occurred largely for workers of higher levels of ‘academic ability’”. In other words eight years of community college may not be that helpful for some people.

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  3. Nobody In Here But Us Chickens10:28 AM

    That's what I've been telling people for years, and you should see their shocked expressions. But the fact is, smart people know things because we're curious and reading and looking things up is normal to us.

    This is why I love this blog.

    ReplyDelete
  4. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  5. Yeah, Charles Murray had a really good article in The American basically pointing out that sending lots of people to college is a waste of time and counterproductive.

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  6. I also don't think that the working class should be forced to waste money on community colleges, etc. and going into debt in order to get lower-tier white-collar jobs.

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  7. There are actually techniques to increase g, but the "educators" occupying the moral high ground with their hypocrisy never pursue those techniques. They aren't interested in education. They are solely interested 1) Job security (rent seeking) and 2) Indoctrination furthering 1.

    ReplyDelete
  8. jim is correct. many of the helping professions are as interested in job security as anything else. look at doctors and their endless love of performing money-making procedures.

    what are those techniques, jim?

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  9. One thing education does is it lets you try out different fields. I got an MBA largely because I didn't know what to do with myself at age 21, so I spent two years in B-School. By age 23, I knew, "I like to work with numbers," which was a useful thing to know.

    Even though B-School is a good place to warehouse bright but unworldly 21-year-olds until they figure out what they want to do, nowadays, though, they don't let 21 year olds go to B-School because it lowers the schools average starting salary. B-Schools up their average starting salary by taking in older, more experienced students with high "finishing salaries."

    ReplyDelete
  10. Aren't there much more effective educational methods available if we want? The armed forces seem to be particularly good at making people learn....

    Well, not any methods the educational establishment would allow. What kind of a crisis would it take to break their stranglehold?

    ReplyDelete
  11. One thing education does is it lets you try out different fields. I got an MBA largely because I didn't know what to do with myself at age 21
    By Steve S
    ================================

    Yeah, but a competent system would rollback that function, or large parts of it - to the High School Years.

    ReplyDelete
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