Saturday, 2 October 2010

Freakonomics and Frank Field

Frank Field again (soliciting early intervention):

"One conclusion has stood out from all the academic readings in which I have been engrossed over the past three months. Using one of our cohort studies, Leon Feinstein measured children's abilities at age two, three and five years and then went on to look at what happens to these children in school.

The gob-smacking findings (to use that gentle phrase of Chris Patten) was that, as children turn up for their first day at school, they possess a wide range of abilities and that children from families on the lowest incomes were more likely to be towards the bottom end of the range of these abilities. And there they remained when a second set of tests were taken at ten.

Even worse was that those children from the least privileged homes who did score well in the early years- and way above some children from much richer homes - were found at aged 10 to have lost ground at school and to have been overtaken as a group by what were poorer achieving children from richer homes.The Review's attention has therefore, unsurprisingly, been centred on what happens during those first five years that so impacts on a child's life-time opportunities. As the Review will be written advocating action, we are considering whether it is possible to marshal a range of intelligent interventions that radically alter what would otherwise be the current fate of poorer children."


Well, Frank, did you read Freakonomics? A book by Steven Levitt (a 'rogue' economist) and Stephen Dubner? They found that adopted children have lower school test scores than other children. Why? Because lots of mothers (and fathers) who gave away their babies were actually of lower intelligence than those who adopted the children. IQ *(as measured by school tests) is largely genetically determined. The adoptive parents, however, did make a difference because adopted children went on to have good jobs, take further education and postpone marriage and child-bearing until they were out of their teens - outcomes that could be attributed to the influence of their adopting families.The whole thing could be sorted by getting rid of school (and other) tests. Everything that is measured has winners and losers, and most things that are measured are possibly not correlated with 'success' in life. As far as I can see, often schools are measuring memory. If a child has a good memory, s/he gets good scores. If not, well, tough luck, kid.

Freakonomics - it's a good read. I recommend it.

Addendum: Frank has uncovered a good reason for ditching the whole school system too. From the quotation above:

"...those children from the least privileged homes who did score well in the early years- and way above some children from much richer homes - were found at aged 10 to have lost ground at school..." which would suggest that school not only did not enhance some children's test-taking ability but also made it worse.

Thanks, Frank, if school tests are the be all end all, you've just proved from your own writing that school doesn't matter for some children and, in fact, it can do them damage.

Well done, Frank. Go to the top of the class.


  1. Great post as always, Danae! I also find it quite funny that middle-class children do better on baseline assessments than children from lower social classes. I wonder how many of the adults who devised those tests were ... errr ... middle class? I'm sure I remember reading that at least the older forms of IQ tests used to favour white males. How do kids do in tests? Depends what you're testing for. Still a scandal that schools only exacerbate the problem!

  2. Nice work - I'll be noting that quote for later use. Amazing how blind these politicians are, can't they see that school is causing the problem for these 'least privilaged' children?

  3. I've read the book too. It's quite telling when the authors say that what really influences how your child will be as an adult is actually the person you are, not what you do!

  4. good post! i often check in on your views and your blog you talk a lot of sense in this mad world!