Affecting Outcomes through Education

18 Jan

Very interesting article by E.D. Hirsch on the statistical link between language proficiency and upward mobility.  I am duplicating the first three paragraphs here, but the full article can be found at

Excerpt:   [Bolding is mine]

A Wealth of Words

A number of notable recent books, including Joseph Stiglitz’s The Price of Inequality and Timothy Noah’s The Great Divergence, lay out in disheartening detail the growing inequality of income and opportunity in the United States, along with the decline of the middle class. The aristocracy of family so deplored by Jefferson seems upon us; the counter-aristocracy of merit that long defined America as the land of opportunity has receded.

These writers emphasize global, technological, and sociopolitical trends in their analyses. But we should factor in another cause of receding economic equality: the decline of educational opportunity. There’s a well-established correlation between a college degree and economic benefit. And for guidance on what helps students finish college and earn more income, we should consider the SAT, whose power to predict graduation rates is well documented. The way to score well on the SAT—at least on the verbal SAT—is to have a large vocabulary. As the eminent psychologist John Carroll once observed, the verbal SAT is essentially a vocabulary test.

So there’s a positive correlation between a student’s vocabulary size in grade 12, the likelihood that she will graduate from college, and her future level of income. The reason is clear: vocabulary size is a convenient proxy for a whole range of educational attainments and abilities—not just skill in reading, writing, listening, and speaking but also general knowledge of science, history, and the arts. If we want to reduce economic inequality in America, a good place to start is the language-arts classroom.


4 Responses to “Affecting Outcomes through Education”

  1. justturnright January 18, 2013 at 3:46 pm #

    Excellent; thanks for posting this.

    We home school our two boys, and I couldn’t agree more as to the importance of writing skills, composition, grammar, etc,… and how critical they are in ALL subjects.

    Thanks again…

    • illero January 18, 2013 at 4:11 pm #

      Thanks for commenting. Being an old Air Force guy, I was interested to see that the AFQT weights the verbal portion twice as heavily as the quantitative portion. It’s nice to see that someone in our armed forces has been studying the research on language skills in relation to success. I will add, though, that when the writer went into a description of a curriculum he (she?) felt would meet this objective, I had to go “Ho hum, another ‘progressive’ program. How boring this sounds for kids.” Do we teach wide and shallow, or narrow and deep? I don’t think our school time allows for both. But you would be in a better position to know. Since I was a numbers guy in school, I hated literature, civics, history, essay writing, etc. Yet, somehow, all through my career I heard people say they needed to bring a dictionary to conversations with me (and when they would read my letters/memos). I guess those old vocabulary books worked for me – write the word x times, use it in a sentence, . . .

      • justturnright January 18, 2013 at 4:21 pm #

        I was just the opposite in school: Language, English, writing, spelling, etc,..came easily.
        yet, even though I ended up tutoring math throughout my college years (which almost PAID for my college years), I always had to “talk” my way through a problem first. Still do.
        I was horrible at memorization: I had to learn it.

        In my recent experience, schools have a tendency to teach narrow and shallow (yes, the worst of both), save for a few key areas which are often societal in nature (e.g. diversity).
        My wife and I are trying to teach our boys HOW to study/learn, in order for them to be able to analyze a subject and digest it, rather than just pass tests.

        And yes, I’d agree on vocabulary: hear the word, write the word, read the word, say the word is still a highly effective method.

        Great post; I’ll be back…

      • illero January 18, 2013 at 4:29 pm #

        Just, you made me laugh (sadly) with the phrase “narrow and shallow”. Thanks. And best of luck with your home schooling. We’ll probably cross paths in the blogosphere again.

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