Thursday, February 19, 2015

What did a high school record tell about a PhD holder 50 years ago?

In today's climate of providing women extra assistance for education  a report written in 1965 provides an interesting look back. 

When boxing and pitching files a few years ago, I came across a copy of National Academy of Sciences, National Research Council. 1965a. High School Ability Patterns: A Backward Look From the Doctorate. Prepared by L.R. Harmon. Washington, DC. It had been withdrawn from the OSU Library and I’d apparently picked it up at a book sale.  NAS went to a lot of trouble to do this research and I think Mr. Harmon got several publications out of it. 

It's a study of high school aptitude and achievement of PhDs of 1959-1962 (i.e., folks a few years older than me). It samples 20,440 doctorate-holders, men and women, compares them with randomly-selected classmates, and looks at sex, grades, rank and IQ scores as well as type of school, size of class, and region.  It is a fascinating study but I don't know if anyone paid any attention to it or adjusted any educational goals accordingly. Harmon’s other publications for NAS on the topic of doctorates  have numerous cites in ISI, but I think this study only had two when I looked. His study doesn't include race or economic information.

Here’s what Lindsey R. Harmon reported from all that data.

  • In high school, these graduates were about 1.5 standard deviation above the mean of the general population, and 1 standard deviation above their classmates.
  • There was a positive relationship between school retention rate through the 12th grade and eventual doctorate attainment rate by students in those schools.
  • Among the schools, independent schools' students measured highest, then denominational schools, then public schools.
  • It was possible to sort about 40% of the high school students into their eventual doctorate fields solely on the basis of their high school information.
  • Girls' mean GPA in all areas was higher than boys (even among the non-doctorate controls), but boys' intelligence test scores were better (boys had a higher drop out rate which culls the less intelligent students).
  • Girls (who went on to get doctorates) outscored the boys in high school math and science.
  • Married, female doctorates by any index were brighter than men in the same fields of specialization.
  • They also outperformed (in high school records) single women--in both GPA and mental tests. 
  • Married men's GPA and mental tests, however, were lower than single men.  There was a lot of speculation about these differences.

So, is there life after high school?

Other publications by Harmon on this topic are listed in this bibliography.

Update: Although I can't be sure since the obituary doesn't list publications, I think this is the obituary for Lindsey R. Harmon author of the above cited publication and many others on college graduates.

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