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Conservatively liberal, moderately well-educated, and highly opinionated...

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Monday, January 30, 2006


The LATimes is running a series this week about some truly terrifying (to me) high school drop-out statistics.

The Times determined that at least 53% of the students who began at Birmingham in ninth grade graduated four years later, many from other schools.

Half? Holy cow! And today’s article – the second in the series – indicates that the big obstacle is Algebra.

In the fall of 2004, 48,000 ninth-graders took beginning algebra; 44% flunked, nearly twice the failure rate as in English. Seventeen percent finished with Ds.

In all, the district that semester handed out Ds and Fs to 29,000 beginning algebra students — enough to fill eight high schools the size of Birmingham.

Is this an American educational phenomenon, do you suppose? Or could it be related to this article from the UK’s Times Online:

Far from getting cleverer, our 11-year-olds are, in fact, less “intelligent” than their counterparts of 30 years ago. Or so say a team who are among Britain’s most respected education researchers.

After studying 25,000 children across both state and private schools Philip Adey, a professor of education at King’s College London confidently declares: “The intelligence of 11-year-olds has fallen by three years’ worth in the past two decades.” [...]

“It is shocking,” says Adey. “The general cognitive foundation of 11 and 12-year-olds has taken a big dip. There has been a continuous decline in the last 30 years and it is carrying on now.”

But what exactly is being lost? Is it really general intelligence or simply a specific understanding of scientific concepts such as volume and density? Both, say the researchers. The tests reveal both general intelligence — “higher level brain functions” — and a knowledge that is “the bedrock of science and maths” says Ginsburg. In fact it’s nothing less than the ability of children to handle new, difficult ideas. Doing well at these tests has been linked with getting higher grades generally at GCSE.

I have absolutely nothing that connects these two findings to one another, other than the shared problems with the math. Does it actually seem likely that the human race is getting less intelligent?

Scary thought…