Part 2—Why hasn’t this fact been reported: Sabrina Tavernise’s report appeared above the fold on the front page of last Friday’s New York Times.

Let's start with some basic words of praise: Good for Sabrina Tavernise!

As its hard-copy headline suggests, Tavernise’s report focused on the rising gap between the educational achievement of high- and low-income kids (“Rich and Poor Further Apart in Education”).

As such, her report had a gloomy focus. But as we read, we were surprised to see her report a secondary fact. How weird! Black kids are doing much better in school, the New York Times seemed to be saying:
TAVERNISE (2/10/12): Now, in analyses of long-term data published in recent months, researchers are finding that while the achievement gap between white and black students has narrowed significantly over the past few decades, the gap between rich and poor students has grown substantially during the same period.
Say what? Lodged within that nugget paragraph, Tavernise tossed away a remarkable claim: “The achievement gap between white and black students has narrowed significantly over the past few decades!”

Soon, Tavernise said it again. “Who knew?” we incomparably asked:
TAVERNISE (continuing directly): “We have moved from a society in the 1950s and 1960s, in which race was more consequential than family income, to one today in which family income appears more determinative of educational success than race,” said Sean F. Reardon, a Stanford University sociologist. Professor Reardon is the author of a study that found that the gap in standardized test scores between affluent and low-income students had grown by about 40 percent since the 1960s, and is now double the testing gap between blacks and whites.


In the study he led, researchers analyzed 12 sets of standardized test scores starting in 1960 and ending in 2007. He compared children from families in the 90th percentile of income—the equivalent of around $160,000 in 2008, when the study was conducted—and children from the 10th percentile, $17,500 in 2008. By the end of that period, the achievement gap by income had grown by 40 percent, he said, while the gap between white and black students, regardless of income, had shrunk substantially.
Say what? The achievement gap between white and black students has shrunk substantially since the 1960s? The achievement gap has narrowed significantly over the past few decades?

Repeat after us: Who knew?

We don’t mean this, in any way, as a criticism of Tavernise. But her report largely buries this news—treats it like a subordinate fact, like something her readers already knew.

But would a regular New York Times reader already know such a fact? We didn’t think we had ever seen the Times report the fact that the achievement gap has narrowed. Nor did we think that the Times has reported the way this has occurred.

Is it true that the achievement gap between white and black students has narrowed significantly over the past few decades? If you consult the “gold standard of educational testing,” the National Assessment of Educational Progress, the data do show such a narrowing. More importantly, the data show how this narrowing has occurred. According to the NAEP data, achievement levels by white students have grown in the past few decades—but achievement levels by black students have grown even more! And the gains in achievement are substantial, as we have noted again and again—and again and again and again.

You might think a major newspaper would want to share this news with the public—especially in an era when the public is constantly being told that its public schools are miserably failing due to the selfishness of their lazy teachers with their infernal unions.

If you thought such a thing, you were wrong! Has the New York Times ever told readers about black students’ rising achievement? We’ve begged for such reporting, for years—but we didn’t think we’d ever read anything like that in the Times.

The topic is bit hard to research, but we did a quick search using Nexis.

We searched using these terms: “Achievement gap AND black AND white.” (“Achievement gap” is a fairly standard term when discussing this general topic.) In the past two years, we found no headlines which seemed to suggest that those rising scores by black students were being discussed. We did find a pair of classic gloomy public school headlines—the only headlines which seemed to target the achievement levels of black kids:
August 16, 2010: Triumph Fades On Racial Gap In City Schools
November 9, 2010: Proficiency of Black Students Is Found to Be Far Lower Than Expected
That first report, by Sharon Otterman, only concerned New York City’s schools. That second report, by Trip Gabriel, is now festooned with corrections. (For our incomparable same-day reaction, see THE DAILY HOWLER, 11/9/10.)

Let’s get back to the basics: Would a New York Times reader have any idea that black students’ achievement levels are way up on the NAEP, the testing program this great newspaper constantly pimps as our most reliable source of data? We will happily stand corrected. But we don’t think the New York Times has ever reported that fact, even if to report or suggest that those data are bogus or overstated. Last Friday, that fact turned up inside the Tavernise report, treated like a subordinate fact which everyone already knows.

Everyone doesn’t know that fact. They haven’t read about this topic in the brilliant New York Times. And within the emerging liberal world, you couldn’t get people to discuss such facts with a shotgun and a team of howling dogs strapped to the roof of your truck.

Everyone doesn’t know that fact. We’ll ask you again:

Why not?

Tomorrow: Why have low-income kids been losing ground?


  1. Bob, why don't you submit an op-ed to The New York Times or Washington Post, highlighting in 800 words the key findings of the NAEP over the past years?

  2. He probably could get someone from the New York Times to focus on this, with the right amount of honey, if he reminded him that he attended Harvard. The Times really does love Harvard College and Harvard University. (Though Pinch went to Columbia University, or somewhere or other.)

    The Washington Post is hopeless. They are trying their best to outdo the Washington Times and the Washington Examiner for mindless, right-wing paper of record, especially now that the Kaplan University division isn't raking in our tax dollars reprocessed as unaffordable student loans. The executive editor Brauchli recently initiated another round of buy-outs; they'll be left with a sports writer, a few new media types, and the reprehensible, creepy Richard Cohen when all's said. (And done.)

    Somerby should publish his findings as an ebook and go shill it on the airwaves. That'll get the discussion some attention. But just remember to mention that you went to Harvard. Oh, and knew Tommy Lee Jones. (The media despise your former roommate, our former Vice President, who won the popular vote in 2000 but had the election stolen from him, so you can leave him out of it.)

  3. this is just way too great pertaining to words! :)
    great job!