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Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Are you smarter than an average Harvard senior?

Okay - that's a bad play on the name of a current television quiz show, but the Intercollegiate Studies Institute has a second annual study of how little college students know about U.S. history and civics and then lays the blame on colleges.

Of course, the output of an education production function has various inputs, of which only a few are in the hands of the professoriate - most are from the student and there is very little we as professors can do to alter that.

Nevertheless, the quiz 14,000 students took is available here.

Here are my results:
You answered 54 out of 60 correctly — 90.00 %
Average score for this quiz during September: 73.0%
Average score since September 18, 2007: 73.0%
I get an A - barely - although I would argue that there are two answers for question #50.

Here are the percentages from the top ten schools:

1. Harvard University 69.56%
2. Grove City College (PA) 67.26
3. Washington & Lee University (VA) 66.98
4. Yale University 65.85
5. Brown University 65.64
6. University of Virginia 65.28
7. Wheaton College (IL) 64.98
8. University of Pennsylvania 63.49
9. Duke University 63.41
10. Bowdoin College (ME) 62.86

Full top 50 rankings here - my alma mater, The University of Georgia, rolls in at number 17.

There are some interesting comments at this page at the Chronicle of Higher Education. According to certain comment providers, the ISI is a right-wing freak show and therefore the quiz is not to be considered. Hmmm....

I got an 83.33%.

Arguably, many of these questions are biased or poorly worded. I'm sure many of the questions counted as correct were due to some agreements that I have with the test makers.

If nothing else, I notice that much of the knowledge required to answer many of the questions consists of important premises to many popular conservative arguments.

For example, question 30

The Bill of Rights explicitly prohibits:
A. prayer in public school.
B. discrimination based on race, sex, or religion.
C. the ownership of guns by private individuals.
D. establishing an official religion for the United States.
E. the President from vetoing a line item in a spending bill.

A liberal is more likely to choose A without looking at the other answer choices because while prayer in public school is not "explicitly" prohibited, it is implicitly prohibited because public schools are agents of government and formal prayer is a way of respecting an establishment of religion.

Also, I am fairly sure one question is incorrect. Over the past forty years, real income in the US has been fairly flat according to stats we saw in Papanyan's class. According to the quiz, real income has "increased for the lower and middle classes and increased most for the upper class." I'm not ruling out the possibility that my memory is incorrect.
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