No Excuse For No Excuses

Within the claustrophobic
limitations imposed by its title phrase, the new book

No Excuses: Closing the Racial Gap in Learning

by conservative Harvard historian Stephan Thernstrom and
his wife, Manhattan Institute

Abigail, contains much to praise. It
offers detailed documentation of the size of the

racial gap in school performance
and of all the
failed attempts to close it.

As the Thernstroms summarize

Blacks nearing the end of their high school education
perform a little worse than white eighth-graders in both
reading and U.S. history, and a lot worse in math and
geography. In math and geography, indeed, they know no
more than whites in the seventh grade. Hispanics do only
a little better than African-Americans. In reading and
U.S. history, their NAEP scores in their senior year of
high school are a few points above those of whites in
eighth grade. In math and geography, they are a few
points lower."

Naturally, the Conservative
Establishment has duly been lavishing that praise. (Here
are raves by

Peter Kirsanow

Mona Charen

Thomas Sowell

Rich Lowry
, and

Clint Bolick
.) But no one will dare explain what`s
fundamentally wrong with the book – except

VDARE.COM and me
. So I`m going to focus on why the
Thernstroms` glass is half empty.

First, though, may I register a
quiet scream of frustration about the new
politically-correct way to color charts depicting data
by race?

There are 48 charts in No
. Most of them are black and white bar
charts, listing test scores by ethnicity. When their bar
charts display three ethnic groups, the Thernstroms use
(follow me closely here):

  • A black bar for whites,

  • A gray bar for blacks, and

  • A white bar for Hispanics.

You have to keep glancing at the
key to make sense of the chart.

Apparently, the modern, sensitive
chart maker can`t be caught dead implying that there`s
any truth to the discredited old stereotype that blacks
are, well, blacker than whites. But won`t
somebody take pity on the poor reader?

[We now return to your
regularly scheduled review

Why does this racial learning gap

The Thernstroms` basic argument is
(to put it more bluntly than they would): black and
Hispanic students ain`t dumb—they`re just lazy.

Of course, it does seem likely that
how much time you spend on homework affects your
achievement scores. But the Thernstroms run into a
surprising amount of frustration looking for evidence
that`s why blacks and Hispanics lag. Thus, they admit:

"Indeed, in all three grades (fourth, eighth, and
twelfth) the proportion of black and Hispanic students
spending an hour or more a day on homework is slightly
higher than for whites."

The Thernstroms` excuse: black kids watch a huge amount
of television. So presumably they are more likely to
have the TV on while they are doing their homework.

Maybe. But there`s a much simpler explanation for why
white kids spend no more time on their homework than
black and Hispanic kids, yet score vastly higher on
achievement tests: because they are, on average,
according to every one of the

hundreds of IQ studies
, smarter.

The Thernstroms don`t want to touch that

tar baby
with a ten-foot pole. "The racial gap is
not an IQ story; this is not a book about innate
they assert on p. 4. They never
return to provide any evidence to back up this audacious

fact, on pp. 130-132 (no doubt beyond where most
reviewers read) the Thernstroms actually prove it is
largely "an IQ story.” They write:

racial gap in academic achievement appears very early in
life—a fact that we have not touched upon in earlier
chapters… But clear racial differences in intellectual
development are evident by the time children first set
foot in school… For example, black five- and six-year
olds in the Children of the

National Longitudinal Survey of Youth
… scored a
full standard deviation below their white peers on the
Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test, a standard gauge of
intellectual development for children before the age at
which they can read…
[O]nly one-sixth of African
Americans performed as well as or better than the
average white child."


is simply a specialized verbal

IQ test
for the very young. It`s

on the same mean = 100 and standard deviation
= 15 scale as better-known IQ tests like the Wechsler,
which the Peabody correlates with. And—no surprise—it
shows that, among preschoolers, there exists the same
one standard deviation, 15-point white-black average gap
found in IQ among adults.

And what about the new minority
imported by government policy since we all started
worrying about blacks—Hispanics?

Amusingly, for a book entitled
No Excuses
, the Thernstroms` chapter on Hispanics is
mainly devoted to an excuse for the four-grade gap
between whites and Hispanics: immigrant status. They

the average NAEP scores for Hispanics are about as low
as those for blacks, but only because the presence of so
many low-scoring immigrant children pulls them down."

The Thernstroms add that, on the
1992 NAEP, "Latino immigrant children lag behind
those who are second-generation or more by an average of
… at least a full grade—on each test

The obvious conclusion: shutting
down immigration would have an excellent effect on
Hispanic academic performance. And indeed, the
Thernstroms imply that immigration restriction would
help. They approvingly cite a 1980 study that:

sounded a prescient note of caution about the possible
impact of immigration … Those Mexicans who were
assimilating to the broader culture would be `replaced
by immigrants who bring in the traditional values

.`  In particular, the authors
warned, a big jump in the number of immigrants with very

little schooling by American standards
would pose
major problems for the schools that had to educate their
children. That very big jump has occurred."

Yet, the Thernstroms never follow
up the obvious implication: that the surest way to
improve Hispanic performance would be to sharply cut
back on immigration.

Further, there`s a disturbing
aspect that the Thernstroms try to gloss over. How well
can we expect the American-born children and
grandchildren of these Hispanic immigrants to do?

Unfortunately, the Thernstroms
don`t tell us exactly how large the gap is between
whites and American-born Hispanics. So let`s do some
rough math. We know the average gap for all Hispanics,
immigrant and non-immigrant, is four grades. Let`s say
those born in America score 1.4 grades better than
immigrants—a generous reading of the Thernstroms` hint
above about immigrants lagging "at least a full
And let`s say half of Hispanics are
immigrants and half are American-born. Then, the
American-born Hispanics would still trail whites by 3.3
grade levels.

That would be equal to two-thirds
of the notorious white-black gap.

This estimate tracks with most
everything else we know about Hispanics. The
white-Hispanic gap has been studied far less than the
white-black gap, but it looks to be substantial. For
example, the gap between whites and Mexican-Americans on
the SAT is 77 percent of the size of the gap between
whites and blacks. (See page 11 of this 820k


On the SAT`s competitor, the

, the white-Mexican gap is 71 percent of the
white-black gap. (It`s 56 percent for other Hispanics.)

IQ? The huge NSLY study run by the

U.S. military,
which formed the


The Bell Curve
found Latinos scored 14 points
below whites, or 77 percent of the white-black IQ gap.

Nearly two decades earlier, the
1965 Coleman report found a 13-point white-Hispanic IQ

IQ reports from Latin America are
not encouraging either—Richard
Lynn and Tatu Vanhanen
in their important book "IQ
and the Wealth of Nations
" found, on a scale
with white Americans as 100, scores like: Mexico, 87;
Ecuador, 80; Peru 90; Puerto Rico, 84; Guatemala, 79;
Argentina, 96; Uruguay, 96. (Read my

for all the caveats and implications.)

Of course, it would be nice to
close the racial gap in academic achievement. But nobody
has any idea how to do it.

And that`s true for the Thernstroms
too. They excitedly report some anecdotal evidence about
a few high performing

charter schools
. But even their anecdotes are less
impressive the more you look. Their favorite example: a
high-achieving fifth grade class for gifted students at
an LA school taught by

Rafe Esquith.
But the class turns out to be half

South Korea has the second highest
average IQ in the

(more than a half-standard deviation above the
American average). Its citizens have the

work-weeks in the world. South Korean
students typically score at the top of the world in
international achievement


So Mr. Esquith gets gifted Koreans
to work hard and smart. Wow!

Pollyannaish books like No
encourage destructive policies. The reality
is that we don`t live in Lake Wobegon where all the
children are above average. There will always be people
who are below average. We need

that will allow them to live decent,
productive, law-abiding, and self-respecting lives. I
outlined some ideas for this in my five-part VDARE.COM
series "How
to Help the Left Half of the Bell Curve

Our society suffers from the

"Yale or jail"
myth perpetrated by what the
remarkable Milwaukee School Board member

John Gardner
calls the "Educartel." We tell all
American kids that if they don`t graduate from college,
they are doomed. They too often take that to mean they
might as well start dealing crack right now.

Gardner, in contrast, runs a
program in Milwaukee connecting high school juniors with
industrial apprentice programs.

Of course, there`d be more of these
jobs for American youth if we stopped importing so

many blue-collar workers
from abroad.

And that leads to the next positive
step we can take. Our schools are

by students who are

difficult to teach.

stop importing more
from the rest of the world.

Serious thinking about our racial divisions is
essential. But that thinking needs to be undertaken in a
scientific, not a moralistic, spirit.

[Steve Sailer [email
him] is founder of the Human Biodiversity Institute and

movie critic

The American Conservative
His website
features his daily