Social Science

Genes, background more important than type of school 3-31-18

Source: Selective evidence - Genes and backgrounds matter most to exam results - The type of school is less important     

From this article: "Debate has raged for years over whether most selective schools do well because they provide a better education than state schools, or merely because they cream off the brightest and most privileged. According to research led by Robert Plomin and Emily Smith-Woolley, both of King’s College London, the educational benefits of selective schools largely disappear once the innate ability and socio-economic background of pupils at selective schools are taken into account. On average, the results of children at private or grammar schools were a full GCSE grade higher than those at state schools. That suggests attending a selective school gives children a boost. Without correcting for any other factors the researchers calculated the boost to be worth about 7.1% of the difference in GCSE results. But was this due to better teaching at these schools or an outcome of the selection procedure? To see, the team adjusted the grades based on the results of each child’s test scores, family circumstances and genes. Once they did this, the gap between the schools narrowed dramatically, with school type explaining just 0.5% of the difference in average GCSE grades. For any individual, genetics accounted for about 8% of the difference, modest in comparison with the many other factors involved, such as socio-economic backgrounds..."

Educating Gifted Children 3-24-18

Source: Economist: 24 Mar 18 "Talent Shows"         

IQ and accomplishmentOld idea; intelligence as a child often equated to a troubled adulthood. This is not borne out by recent research which indicates that of the top one-half of one percent scorers on childhood IQ tests, a full 30% go on to achieve doctorates (compared to 1% of the population overall). On the chart, note the higher the SAT score, the more likely the student is to go on to get a PhD, write a paper and file a patent. Work by Chetty at Stanford shows that there is also a socioeconomic component to future intellectual success - children of wealthier parents are more likely to file patents or get PhDs that poorer studentswith the same level of intelligence. Chetty calls these poorer children who fall through the cracks later in life "Lost Einsteins". If women, minorities, and children from low-income families were to invent at the same rate as white men from high-income (top 20%) families, the rate of innovation in America would quadruple. Important to be on the same page regarding "intelligence", best defined as "the ability to think abstractly and use reason to plan and solve problems". Today, there is a shift away from using the label "intelligence" ad instead talk about "high ability". And to extend the description of intelligence to include spatial ability.

Some policy recommendations: first, childhood ability testing must be universal and not voluntary. 2015 paper from Card and Giuliano shows that when a Florida school district shifted to universal screening, admissions to gifted programs increased by 180% amongst poor children (130% increwse for Hispanic kids and 80% for black kids). Next, test for more than just IQ - test also for spatial ability. Finally, Project Bright Idea, developed at Duke University, saw 10,000 typical nursery and primary-school pupils taught using methods often reserved for brainier kids—fostering high expectations, complex problem-solving and cultivating meta-cognition (or “thinking about thinking”). Nearly every one of them went on to do much better on tests than similar peers.

In rebuttal, there are researchers that argue that intelligence is not the best predictor of future success. Angela Duckworth in her book "Grit" (2016) believes that task-motivation or persistence is the best predictor of future success and it can be taught. Anders Ericson of FSU believes in the power of deliberate practice over a long period (the 10,000 Hour Rule). Others like Carol Dweck of Stanford thinks the mindset of the child is important - either a "growth mindset" or a "fixed mindset". While this approach is now popular in education, there is little evidence to back it up.

Source: Chetty on Lost Einsteins

Source: Card and Giuliano on universal screening

Source: Duke's Project Bright Idea

Subtle ways colleges discriminate against poor students Vox 9-11-17

Vox: "Subtle ways colleges discriminate against poor students"  

Educational AttainmentAmerica is not a meritocracy. The figure on left demonstrates that it is the father’s level of education that is the primary factor in determining what level of education the child will receive. “College is a finishing school for affluent families and a glass ceiling for everyone else.” Richard Reeves in his book The Dream Hoarders argues this is structural - the affluent use their wealth to gain favors unavailable to the wiring class. Think of structures like legacy admissions or zero-sum situations like using your county club connections to get your child that coveted internship that now cannot go to anyone else. Socioeconomic class controls the way we think, the way we see the world and the way we parent. Affluent parents stress the teaching of independent values like expressing yourself, questioning authority, solving your own problems. Low income parents stress interdependent values like working well with others and following authority (see Annette Lareau’s Unequal Childhoods). College admissions officers select for applicants with strong independent skill sets, not strong interdependent ones. This is a subtle but effective way that colleges discriminate against low income students.

College CompletionOnce in college, low income students suffer from lower completion rates. This connects back to socioeconomic status. Poor people don’t have a safety net, thus they are risk averse. They avoid speaking out. In college, such students are not going to advocate for themselves, not going to question a grade, not going to ask to speak to the professor. This behavior reinforces itself. As students respond to setbacks with isolation, it becomes ever more difficult to change their situations. Psychologists have a concept - “stereotype threat” - as low income students begin to struggle, they begin to believe that stereotypes about poor people (lazy, ignorant etc.) may actually be true. Finally, the motivations for going to college differ between low income students (I'm going to college to help my family) versus high income students (I'm going to colleg to expand my knowledge of the world). From the article: "In short, we just don't have a great idea of how advantaged or disadvantaged we are. But this means that, when lower-class students begin struggling in college, they blame themselves for their struggles. Gibbons says most of them were held to high standards in their hometowns and by their families, so asking for help feels like failure. So they feel they are failing because they aren't as capable. It reiterates the fear that they are the stereotype of the undereducated lower-class kid."

A study on first-generation college students

A study on college retention and graduation rates

Motivated reasoning 6/10/17

Source: "Free exchange: How to be wrong"           

Human thought is not always (or even usually) rational. Humans don’t use new information to update their beliefs - instead, they cling to their beliefs in the face of contradictory evidence. Jean Tirole and Roland Benabou wrote a landmark paper in 2016 that looks at beliefs as consumption goods. This new perspective yields interesting insights and predictions.

Beliefs are goods, in the sense that people spend resources acquiring them and developing them and they derive value and benefits from their beliefs. A typical value involves signaling membership in a group. A less common belief value would be the way believing in a religion can shape your behavior (if I believe I am a good salesman, I can use the confidence generated by my belief to close more sales; if I accept an ascetic religion, my beliefs can help me avoid unhealthy behaviors).

Benabou and Tirole believe people engage in motivated reasoning to protect their hard-won beliefs from contradictory evidence. The first stage of motivated reasoning is strategic ignorance: here, the believer simply ignores the evidence. In stage two, reality denial, the believer acknowledges the new evidence but refuses to accept it as coming from a credible source. Finally, in self-signalling, the evidence is accepted as credible but the believer interprets it as actually strengthening their belief, not contradicting it (example: an unhealthy person might decide that their ability to still run a few miles is proof that they are indeed healthy).

Other work by Benabou suggests that “groupthink” is highest when people within a group share the same fate if their briefs are discredited. If a politicians fortunes are linked to his party’s performance, they will have little incentive to speak out against the group. Such groups become partisan and polarized. Such groups try to delegitimize independent voices (like research groups or watchdog groups).