The New York Times prints that hoary old tale!

FRIDAY, MARCH 22, 2013

The Times simply can’t cover schools: On Monday, we noted that the Washington Post had published a very familiar letter repeating a bogus old claim.

False belief comes from repetition, we incomparably said. And sure enough! This morning, the New York Times has printed a different letter.

It repeats that same hoary old tale:
LETTER IN THE NEW YORK TIMES (3/22/13): Kudos to Richard V. Reeves for his eloquent defense of shame “as a form of moral regulation or social ‘nudge,’ encouraging good behavior while guarding individual freedom.” It’s long past time that we began a war of words against that which is “lawful but awful.”

Problems related to a societal atrophy of the sense of shame extend well beyond teenage pregnancy. Deteriorating levels of academic achievement among American schoolchildren might be another consequence.

Children today might have little reason to think that failure to do well in school is their fault (or that it’s a fault at all), given the focus on inadequate teachers and their labor unions, along with ubiquitous social promotion in schools. This leaves students with the impression that their choices and behaviors really don’t lead to any significant consequences.
Those Kids Today are failing again! This writer hits many hot buttons as he tries to explain the “deteriorating levels of academic achievement among American schoolchildren.” The fault may lie with our ratty teachers! And with their labor unions!

In fact, American test scores have never been higher—unless you read the hoary old twaddle they won't stop printing in both the Post and the Times.

Nothing can make them stop printing these letters! Even worse is what happens when the Times attempts to report on our big-city schools.

This morning, the Times reports on a set of school closings in Chicago. Adorned with two large color photos, it's the featured news report in the hard-copy National section.

The Times works from a familiar framework—schools are closing in Chicago and activists are hopping mad. The problem begins near the end of the piece, where we find this type of reporting:
YACCINO AND RICH (3/23/13): It is not clear that students displaced from shuttered schools end up attending better ones. In one study by the Consortium on Chicago School Research at the University of Chicago of 38 schools closed between 2001 and 2006, the researchers found that only 6 percent of the students who were originally enrolled in schools that closed were sent to academically strong schools.
Schools are being closed to save money. There’s no reason to think that a child who leaves a shuttered school will end up attending a “better” school.

That said, the highlighted information is useless. By what standard did those researchers rate a school “academically strong?” How many such schools did the students leave? How many such schools can be found in Chicago?

Until such questions are answered, the highlighted information isn’t information at all. After that, this passage occurs:
YACCINO AND RICH (continuing directly): After school let out Thursday at Robert Emmet Elementary School, one of the campuses slated for closing, students emerged clutching enrollment forms for the schools to which they will transfer. “This is a horrible school to go to,” said Heaven Briggs, 13, a seventh grader whose grandmother, Yvette Gardner, agreed that Emmet was “a bad school.”

Heaven is scheduled to attend Edward K. Ellington Elementary School next year, a school rated in “excellent standing” by the district. Emmet, by contrast, has a “low academic standing” rating.
Why do seventh graders attend “elementary schools?” The Times didn’t stop to explain. That said, is Ellington a better school than Emmet? That’s certainly how that passage sounds.

But looking at Chicago report cards, Emmet seems to have higher percentages of its students working at satisfactory levels. Is Ellington a better school? More to the point, do Yaccino and Rich really know what they’re talking about?

Judging from experience, we would guess they may not. See this recent post, in which the Times attempts to report on the Boston schools.

The report on Chicago is largely worthless. That letter today is worse. American test scores have never been better—until you read the horrified letters the Post and the Times love to print.

These Kids Today have never been worse—if you believe the hoary old claims broadcast in those familiar letters. Many people do believe those claims, thanks to such rags as the Times.


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  2. In Chicago, we have middle schools for 7th and 8th which are part of some but not all elementary schools. So we have K-6s and K-8s distributed through the city. Even though they often continue through what we call middle school, the signboarded official name is Such-and-Such Elementary School. Loose local shorthand.

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