An interview with Dylan Wiliam, Emeritus Professor of Educational Assessment at the Institute of Education, University of London, on his paper entitled Optimizing Talent: Closing Educational and Social Mobility Gap Worldwide, published last year at the Salzburg Global Seminar in Austria.
Marc Tucker: In your paper, you start out making an argument that today’s children are more intelligent than their parents and their grandparents and you combine that with an argument that the quality of teaching in government-funded schools appears to be higher than that in private schools in most wealthy countries. Can you tell us more about the research on both points?
Dylan Wiliam: The first argument draws on the work of psychologist James Flynn (the Flynn effect), an American living and working in New Zealand. He found that IQ tests need to be re-benchmarked every decade, because IQs are rising, about 3 to 4 points every ten years. So IQ norms are rising, and people are getting smarter in ways we may not entirely realize. The average would be around 110 or 115 if we didn’t adjust it. It has risen 15 points since World War II. This is occurring on some tests more than others; arithmetic scores have gone up very little while spatial scores and problem-solving scores are increasing substantially. Maybe young people aren’t using their intelligence today as well as they could be but there is evidence that they are smarter.
Tucker: Most American teachers think about intelligence in the way they were taught to – it is a function of the genes. Is the gene pool changing, or do we have a different idea now about what these tests are measuring?