I think an important point is you don't have to be the best is does any of this really matter that much? Do you have to be in the top 99%?

I was ok in math, but never exceptional. Part of that is probably because I didn't try in HS (never took trig) then tried to pass calculus without it. Foundations are important.

Yet I still went on to get my BA in business economics, MBA then CPA (passed all 4 parts first try). Now I'm head of finance for a mid sized company, and doing quite well for myself.

My sister got a masters pass for economics while failing out of the PHD program (too much math). Now she's doing REALLY well in the private sector.

Work hard do the best you can, but either way you will be just fine. And probably make more money then if you got your PHD anyway

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Dr. Loury sold another book.

When Drs. Loury and Alexander were swapping the stories about the rude people, I laughed when Dr. Alexander said "like something out of a movie" because I had been thinking the entire time of the "How do you like them apples?" scene in "Good Will Hunting."

Coincidence Department: I went through a brief period in the 1980s when I listened to rap quite a lot. As best I recall, I bought only five CDs. "Fear of a Black Planet," "It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back," "Straight Outta Compton" and two Beastie Boys albums. I had them all just about memorized.

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The teachers at public schools are so awful that one really must teach mathematics to themself - a tall order for any teenager, especially one living in the ghetto or in the mountains of Appalachia. The public school system should be dismantled. It's no secret that the worst performing undergraduate students generally revert to "teaching", because the best private companies don't want them. I know that is not the politically correct thing to say, but it's the unvarnished truth. And this is true of government jobs in general. How do you expect someone whose talented, who could be the next Michael Jordan of physics, to emerge from a classroom taught by an imbecile, surrounded, most likely, by a bunch of wannabe ghetto thugs -- because ghetto is what's cool? It's unlikely that kid is maximizing his potential.

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Jul 27, 2022·edited Jul 27, 2022

Inspiring discussion.

Had a student this year who’s grade was boosted by his ability to respond orally, because nowadays students aren’t taught handwriting thus his written work was sloppy and time-consuming.

The exposure and expectation has been my experience as a secondary math teacher.

I’ve had more students do more engineering/science than I did in my prior career (USAF, systems development) because they saw me as someone who did it and I held them to the same expectations I was held to.

Now I have to read “Fear of a Black Universe”, not just for the inspiration but to feed my nerd fix!

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A little over a decade ago I went to South Korea to teach English there. I taught at a Hagwon--a private school. I taught around 50 students a week. It was for studying English after the schools finished being at their public schools that day. Those schools are all over the place in South Korea. And parents send their children to those schools so they can improve their English skills.

There is nothing equivalent to the phenomenon of the Hagwon in the US. But if people want to be serious about more black people excelling in STEM fields, something like that is going to be necessary for black youth. Otherwise a large percentage of them are going to end up never approaching their potential--never even exploring their potential.

Just like many Korean children who grew up in an environment where English was not spoken in their households, many black children grow up in an environment where math, science, engineering and logic are not spoken in their households. Public schools are woefully unprepared to bridge the gap between the culture some black people are raised in and the requirements to excel in STEM fields. Hagwons can bridge those gaps. That is if parents can afford them and parents choose to send their kids to them.

But what are the cultural forces that must be fought to have something like STEM Hagwons in majority black communities filled with students every afternoon? The political activists who seem to be gathering the most money are actively opposed to solutions that would demand “hard work” -- one of those white supremacist concepts. Rather than build programs to help students develop the skills necessary to excel in STEM careers, activists and politicians are actively lowering standards so that the students and parents can feel like they are excelling when they are failing.

Have you and John ever considered starting schools that target black students in majority black communities? Private schools, however they are funded, I suspect are going to be the primary means of bridging those racial gaps in STEM fields. People who want to see those gaps reduced must stop looking to the government for solutions. Black people in general are now at a point of political freedom where the primary barriers to success are no longer external, they are internal. They are cultural. And unfortunately, most of the cultural forces that are claiming to be on the side of black people are actively harming the future of black people in general.

Private schools are a way to make a big impact on the culture and success of more black people. To me I think it would make sense for those black people who have some of the loudest sane, and rational voices, such as you and John -- to start using their clout and resources to begin building schools. I’d be happy to lend my time, experience, and money to the right endeavor.

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Jul 27, 2022·edited Jul 27, 2022

Glenn, an interesting conversation regarding different styles of conveying understanding. I tend to be a traditionalist as far as standardizing testing goes. I feel like these tests measure basic competency and as far as I’m aware are reasonably well correlated with future success. I’m also not aware that test scores for specific racial groups systematically under-predict later success in the relevant domain for that group, i.e., LSAT scores for Blacks under-predicting Black performance on the bar exam for instance. But I’m not a math person and haven’t studied the issue empirically, so I’ll refrain from expressing too strong an opinion as it would certainly be less than informed.

You mentioned that to the extent that test scores are meaningful group differences on these tests seem to align with the degree of representation of the groups in various domains. In particular, the differences on the SAT math are extremely stark.



The Brookings Institute recently updated their analysis on the SAT math test to look at 2020 data from the College Board. Previously they examined thresholds of 750 or higher but this time around it seems like the highest threshold the underlying data broke out was for the 700-800 range. Amongst all test takers in 2020, Asians were 43% of those scoring a 700 or above on the SAT math, while whites were 45%, Hispanics were 6% and Blacks were 1% of such individuals. I assume the remainder were multi-racial.

In looking at the actual percentiles for the groups, a score of 700 on the SAT math was 65th percentile for Asian American test takers but 99th percentile for Black test takers. A score of 500 was 69th percentile for Black test takers, meaning that a slightly larger percentage of Asian Americans scored 700 or higher on the math portion of the SAT than Blacks scored 500 or higher. No doubt Asian scores have been inflated by selective immigration of people from South Asia and East Asia over the past couple of decades, but the fact remains that the observed performance of Asian Americans compared to Black Americans on the SAT math probably differs by roughly 2 standard deviations. This is not a modest difference but a significant one.

Perhaps these tests aren’t nearly as meaningful as I view them to be, but I still feel like they at least measure some baseline level of competency. It’s hard for me to imagine someone not being able to crack at least a 700 on the SAT math for instance and having a high chance of becoming a successful physicist. I was never a math person but in talking to friends who were much better at math than I was, my impression was that even the 800 ceiling for the SAT math was relatively modest as far as assessing super high-level math ability. There are academic competitions like AMC/AIME where the average level of ability for the highest performing individuals probably significantly exceeds the ceiling on the SAT math test, i.e., scoring a perfect 800.

A lot of what I’ve seen from the DEI movement seems to insist that representation be attained by fiat, as if it were simply a matter of putting more of certain individuals in certain roles. I think the observed level of attained skills and competencies differs so vastly among groups that I’m a bit pessimistic that representation can be achieved without first remedying the differences in attained competency. I do think there’s something to the notion that tests aren’t the only way of assessing potential, but I’m more inclined to believe that operates at the margins. If that wasn’t the case then the only thing to conclude is that standardized tests like the SAT math are significantly flawed. That may be the case, but personally I feel like I haven't seen enough evidence to firmly conclude that.

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Jul 26, 2022·edited Jul 26, 2022

Talking about sports has me trying to think of an analogy in the sport I played. And another sport Jordan played. Baseball

A scout will try to predict the success of a high school pitcher in baseball to decide whether to draft him or not. The scout does not care one bit about the players race or ethnicity or whether he comes from wealth or a disadvantaged background. He only cares about likelihood of future success.

The scout will look at results, which would be statistics. I relate these to grades in school. It’s hard to directly translate high school stats to predicted success in professional baseball because the competition gets harder. Similar to how the material gets much tougher in college classes. He will also look at objective measures like height, build and velocity of his fastball. This I relate to Test scores. A pitcher can have average stats but throw 95 MPH and the scout knows he might still have what it takes. A 95 MPH fastball indicates rare natural ability. Theres an old saying that goes something like - “you can teach a guy to pitch, but you can’t teach him to throw hard”. A student might have a 3.6 GPA but score 1500 on the SATs. The grades are so-so, but the test score shows rare natural ability.

All of these measures get weighed and the decision is made to select this player or not. Then they head to the minor leagues and we get to see if the evaluation was accurate.

More often than not, objective measures end up being the most accurate. A guy who throws 95 MPH (high SAT) has a greater chance of success than a guy who throws 85MPH (above average SAT) but has better stats (grades). But a funny thing happens sometimes. A pitcher who isn’t big and strong and doesn’t throw hard, just seems to figure out a way to win. You put him in the minor leagues and predict he won’t last long and he proves you wrong. You move him up a level and think that this level of competition will surely reveal his weakness, and he just continues winning.

Scouts who are experienced and skilled can sometimes spot these qualities early on. Maybe he has excellent control (accuracy), or a great feel for the strategy behind pitching, or maybe he’s the type of guy who just won’t be denied. He has grit and discipline. If they only looked at size and velocity they might very well miss out on players who end up being great assets to the team.

That was a very long winded way of saying I agree with the guest. Test scores are a great indicator, maybe the best single indicator, but putting too much weight on test scores alone and not seriously considering other measures could lead to blindspots and lost opportunities. Or giving up on a student with real potential.

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Really good conversation. Stephon makes two REALLY important points. One is the value of mentors, especially for kids who aren't well connected, don't have a "rolodex" of people to call on. It's a great way for us older folks to give back in a manageable way. The second point is that, while I'm a believer in standardized testing as an important component of assessing competency, the "blackboard" analogy resonates. A mediocre scientist who expresses him/herself well, can write clearly and talk to donors, for example, will probably have a far more successful career than a genius Steppenwolf who is very uncomfortable interacting with his own species. I've seen this occur across many disciplines in the course of my career.

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I agree with Dr. Alexander entirely. The thing is… what he’s talking about is what people are trying to accomplish with diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives and the like… I’m not here to defend *the way* those programs are executed… but this is entirely the issues that are attempting to be addressed!

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this is an interesting topic. style is often thought only in terms of fashion. but there is a dimension in all domains where one can be excellent in more than one style, confronting the conventional wisdom that there can only be one (entrenched) style of excellence. and the sport analogy is fitting...if there is more than one way to excel on the sports field, there is more than one way to excel in the classroom...though there are as many ways to fail in the classroom as there is on the sports field, so merit and rigor should not be dispensed with while being open to nonconventional modes, or styles, of excellence.

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