26 May 2012

The bell curve: one third are ‘special needs’?

In relation to my recent post regarding the shifting of the bell curve, it is interesting to note that there has recently been a spate of newspaper articles commenting on a perceived lowering of ability amongst schoolchildren.

An article in the Daily Mail (9 May 2012) quotes a Department of Education official, Dr Sidwell, as saying: ‘Even the outstanding primaries tell me that children at five are coming in with lower and lower ability to get on with their work.’

An earlier Daily Mail article (5 May 2012) gives some figures: of children aged four to sixteen, 21% are recorded (as of 2011) as having ‘special needs’, an increase from 19% in 2006; amongst nine to ten-year-old boys the figure rises to one third.

Various explanations for this are offered, in particular that it is due to bad parenting, or deliberate misdiagnosis to cover up for poor teaching standards. One of the articles is headlined ‘Poor parenting to blame for surge in special needs’.

A possible explanation that is not mentioned is a genetically caused reduction in IQ of the overall population. As my earlier post points out, an increase in the proportion of low-IQ people in the population implies a corresponding reduction in the proportion of high-IQ people.

Of course, it is characteristic of the exponential growth effect that it starts off small but continuously increases. The initial shifts are unlikely to be noticed. If there has been a shift in the IQ curve which is now causing noticeable effects among those of school age, this might prime us to notice some signs of reduced performance in those older than the current school-age population that might otherwise have gone unobserved.

Interestingly, another recent Daily Mail article (22 May 2012) mentions a study of adults’ spelling ability, reporting a poor standard, supposedly because of over-reliance on computer spellchecks. Tellingly, the youngest of this test population, the students, performed worst. I suggest that this poor standard may not be entirely due to an over-reliance on computer spellchecks.

Exponential growth may start at an imperceptible level, but by the time it has become noticeable, ever greater increases may be expected in the near future.

The reports of significantly lower standards in various areas over short timescales are compatible with the view that a significant shift in the IQ of the population has already taken place, and that the speed of the shift is very likely to accelerate.