Is Intelligence Fixed?

Nathan Glazer, National Review, December 5, 1994.


Herrnstein and Murray give some surprising data (surprising in the light of their argument that intelligence is fixed early and can’t be changed appreciably through environmental intervention) on the degree to which differences between whites and blacks in performance on educational tests have been reduced in the past twenty years. The National Assessment of Educational Progress has been giving tests in science, mathematics, and reading to groups of schoolchildren of different ages since 1969. The reductions in the differences between white and black performance in standard deviations (a crucial statistical measure of difference that will not be further explained here, but that Herrnstein and Murray explain admirably in the book) range from .12 to .44. As they write: “The overall average gap of .92 standard deviation in the 1969—1973 tests had shrunk to .64 standard deviation in 1990. The gap narrowed because black scores rose, not because white scores fell.” There has also been a narrowing of the gap in SAT scores, they report.

I wonder why more is not made of this. After all, while we have tried to do a good deal, through various programs, to put more money into the education of lowachieving, mostly black inner-city children, this has not been an overwhelming national effort. Simultaneously there has been a drastic decline in the environment of many of these children—more drugs, more crime, more illegitimacy. If so much has been achieved with relatively little, why can we not expect further progress? Among all the wonderful charts in this book, it would have been interesting to see one mapping this reduction and extending it into the future.

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