In education equation, X = IQ

Roland Lamarine is a professor of public health at Chico State University who’s “been passing through Chico for the past 20 years, on the way to the Promised Land.”

Editor’s note:
This commentary stems from “Schools at a tipping point?” in the Aug. 16 issue--a story professor Lamarine says “ultimately addresses the best use of our public education system.”

The Chico Unified School District is implementing a new strategy described as Professional Learning Communities. Any strategy to ameliorate teacher isolation and enhance teacher involvement in the educational community has to be commended.

The new paradigm involves a shift from the old model in which time and support were the constants and student achievement was the variable to the inverse.

Already this suggests that the burden for success is being transferred from the student to the teacher. I don’t agree that teacher time and effort have been constants. Public schools employ numerous hard-working teachers who spend far more time and effort than is required by their contracts.

The other concern would be the notion that student achievement becomes a constant. Is this the Lake Wobegone Effect, where all students will now be above average? I suggest a rereading of The Bell Curve by Richard Hernstein and Charles Murray.

All children will not be equally successful academically. Like it or not, the reality is that there is considerable variation in intellectual ability in the general population and the key variable in learning is intelligence, not teachers’ time and effort. Bright children learn despite bad teachers, and less intelligent children sometimes do not learn even when instructed by enlightened teachers.

The CUSD teachers went to a Las Vegas conference, using Title I funds. As I recall, this is the federal pull-out program providing extra assistance for underachieving students. Coincidentally, Dr. Murray was hired to evaluate the interminable failures of this program. The reason these children did not improve was not because of poor teaching—rather, the lack of intellectual capacity on the part of the participants was the key criterion. Nevertheless, remediation is not entirely without merit, and within limits can enhance learning outcomes.

This view is not intended to suggest a return to the days of Cyril Burt, an early-20th-century British psychologist who tested IQ in children and reported there were class differences, with the rich kids innately smarter than the poor kids. Turns out Dr. Burt not only faked his data, he even faked the name of his research assistant. The Binet IQ test indeed has been terribly abused by rich folks wanting to keep poor folks in their place. But that was a long time ago.

Anything that exists can be measured. Intelligence exists, and tools for its measurement are available and can be used judiciously to advance the education of all students and improve the well-being of all citizens.