Imitation of news reporting: Remember when we told you that most of our journalism is imitation of life?
Consider Kit Seelye’s report in today’s New York Times. It concerns the Boston schools.
Yesterday, Boston dropped the remnants of the famous busing plan it initiated in 1974 under force of a federal court order. Seelye describes a complaint about the system’s new plan:
SEELYE (3/15/13): Instead of busing children across town to achieve integration, the plan adopted by the committee is intended to allow more students to attend schools closer to home.According to Seelye, parents and activists said the new plan “would leave some children—mostly black and Hispanic—in the lowest-performing schools.” Almost surely, that is true, unless the various schools all “perform” the same.
That was the objective sought by Mayor Thomas Menino, who appointed a special advisory group last year to overhaul the system. He said that keeping students closer to home would encourage more parental involvement, develop neighborhood cohesion and ultimately improve the schools.
But numerous parents and activists complained during a hearing before the committee’s deliberations that the new system would leave some children—mostly black and Hispanic—in the lowest-performing schools.
That said, Seelye’s account makes almost no sense. Here’s why:
In 2011, only 12 percent of Boston public school fourth graders were white. By contrast, 78 percent of the city’s fourth graders were either black or Hispanic, according to standard NAEP data.
Under any plan, “some children” will be enrolled in the city’s “lowest-performing” schools. And duh! Given the system’s demographics, those kids will inevitably be “mostly black and Hispanic.”
Go ahead—reread that paragraph. It’s left over from the days when Jonathan Kozol was writing Death at an Early Age. Whatever those parents and activists said, Seelye’s account simply doesn’t make sense, except as a tribute to a bygone era.
But so what? Seelye typed it up, and an editor waved it into print. This produced a classic imitation of news reporting:
Readers received a familiar old tale, a tale which no longer makes sense.
A much more recent story: Seelye’s account seemed to reach the Times through a process of time travel. In more recent years, a more cheerful story has emerged from the Boston schools—its black and Hispanic students have scored quite well on math and reading tests, as compared to their peers from around the nation.
This has been going on for years. At the Times, has anyone heard?