Part 4—Including some horrible facts: We’ve been asking the question all week:
How many readers were able to discern the main point of the piece by Hacker and Dreifus in Sunday’s New York Times?
We raised that question at the start of the week, noting the rather jumbled writing the Times didn’t bother to edit. Because their piece was a bit opaque, we wondered how many readers had actually discerned the authors’ (apparent) main point.
Yesterday, one set of results came in.
The Times published five letters about the piece. None of the letters addressed the (very worthwhile) point the professors seemed to be raising in their piece about the new Common Core standards.
The authors seemed to be asking a critical question: If twenty-five percent of American students can’t get through high school as matters stand now, what will happen when the “more rigorous” Common Core standards make the task that much harder?
“Supporters are confident that students will rise to these challenges and make up for our country’s lag in the global education race,” Hacker and Dreifus said at one point in their stroll through the land. “We are not so sure.”
In our view, Hacker and Dreifus raised an extremely good point. Yesterday morning, in five separate letters, no one seemed to realize that this was the question they asked.
We don’t know what kinds of letters the New York Times may have received. But none of the letters the paper published addressed the authors’ (apparent) main point.
That said, two of the letters did recite the propagandistic Standard Story which dominates our nation’s discussions of the public schools. We refer to the mandated Standard Story about “our country’s lag in the global education race,” a Standard Story the authors themselves recited as part of their piece.
The first letter-writer praised the new standards, failing to mention the point of concern Hacker and Dreifus had raised. But as she ended, she tickled the strings of our nation’s Favorite Song:
“I think that we all agree—the old approach was not working.”
The old approach has been working reasonably well for a fairly large number of kids, as we will note below. But it seems to be federal law: You simply can’t discuss public schools without advancing that Standard Claim.
Another letter-writer pumped up the volume on this mandated tune. “Isn’t arguing about the Common Core State Standards rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic?” he gloomily wondered.
That was more like it! Our public schools were now being compared to the world’s most famous shipwreck! And by the way:
As long as this Standard Story is told, our public school teachers will get blamed for the disaster they have produced. The wreck of the Hesperus will get blamed on them and their infernal unions.
Alas! These letter writers approached Sunday’s piece like the famous blind men groping the elephant. Though these folk seemed to be down the hall groping parts of a rhino instead.
The basic point of the piece went unaddressed. But twice, we got to hear the mandated Standard Story—the familiar old story about how gruesome our public schools actually are!
Let’s be clear: American students do not lead the world on international tests. On most measures, the Asian tigers outscore the rest of the world, the United States included.
On the other hand, we aren’t exactly on the Titanic, though everyone and his crazy uncle seems to know that such a claim must, by law, be made.
Sorry, Virginia! American students do not “score well below their European peers in reading and math,” the false claim advanced by Hacker and Dreifus midway through their piece. Even on the international test the authors cherry-picked for maximum gloom, American students outscored their peers from Germany, France and England.
Sorry, Virginia! Scandinavian countries do not “show higher levels of student achievement than the United States,” the bogus claim which appeared in the Washington Post on May 18, placed there by the brightest college kid in the country—by a very bright and caring kid who has been brainwashed by the ubiquity of the Standard Story.
But so what? Everyone from Hacker on down repeats the Standard Story, preferably in a demonstrably bogus form. But then, the Standard Tales which control our discourse are typically built upon two kinds of facts—invented and withheld.
Today, let’s look at some facts which get withheld from your view when public schools get discussed. You will never see these facts when your upper-end press corps pretends to discuss public schools.
Some of these facts are almost uplifting; some of these facts are horrific. All these facts open the window onto our brutal history. But all these facts are actual facts—and they are highly relevant to Hacker and Dreifus’ apparent main point.
These facts are constantly withheld from your view. Although they routinely appear in major reports, you are never shown them.
Let’s start with the semi-gloomy facts which Hacker and Dreifus misstated. Below, you see average scores in reading literacy on the 2009 PISA, the international tests on which the professors chose to focus:
Average scores in reading literacy, 2009 PISA:Korea scored highest of the 34 OECD nations; Mexico scored lowest. For simplicity, we are omitting 21 countries, none of which outscored the U.S. in a "measurably different" way.
New Zealand 521
United States 500
United Kingdom 494
Average of OECD countries 493
To peruse the entire list, click here, scroll down to page 8.
As you can see, the United States outscored the major European nations, though sometimes by small margins. The New York Times should file a detailed, prominent correction of the claim made by its high scholars.
(If they do, they will of course load it with other cherry-picked facts.)
That said, the United States was outscored on this test, in a “measurably different” way, by half a dozen nations. Prompted by endless propaganda, excitable people may compare this to an outing on the Titanic.
If they do, the New York Times will rush their cries into print.
Propagandized people will wring their hands over this gruesome result. Below, we’ll present a different, more detailed version of this list.
We will include some additional facts, including some which are horrifying. The National Center for Educational Statistics gives prominent placement to these “disaggregated” scores; scroll down to page 14. But when you read about public schools, these facts are always withheld, perhaps because they are accurate:
Average scores in reading literacy, 2009 PISA:Propagandists and tribalists will interpret those “disaggregated” scores in various ways. But only to the extent that they’re forced to view them, since these facts are always withheld when we discuss public schools.
(United States, Asian-American students 541)
(United States, white students 525)
New Zealand 521
United States 500
United Kingdom 494
Average of OECD countries 493
(United States, Hispanic students 466)
(United States, black students 441)
Some of those scores are almost encouraging; others are horrifying. For ourselves, we will say that the worst of those scores represents the effect of three centuries of brutal racial history, in which our benighted ancestors worked very hard, for three hundred years, to eliminate literacy from one major segment of the American nation.
Aside from that, how did you like the seventeenth through the nineteenth centuries? With Jim Crow to follow?
That much said, we’ll ask two questions. Let’s start with the first:
Even on this cherry-picked test, do our schools seem like the Titanic when you look at the average score of white students? These are the kids whose ancestors weren’t violently stripped of access to literacy for roughly three hundred years, depending on when you stop counting.
That is this country’s mainstream majority population, the population of kids whose ancestors weren’t violently stripped of the culture of literacy. (Some of those other countries have nothing but a mainstream majority population. To their credit, they didn’t direct three centuries of violence at segments of their populations.) And yes, that average score includes the work of the gap-toothed, shoeless, yahoo-raised kids we fiery liberals like to picture in the southern red states.
Do our schools really seem like the Titanic when you look at that average score?
That said, the average score on this test by American black kids is close to horrifying. It must be said, because it’s true, that many black kids are doing extremely well in school. And it must be said that Americans kids of all descriptions tend to score better on other international tests.
In Massachusetts, black kids outscored Finland in math on the 2011 TIMSS! To review those inspiring numbers, click this. Remember, the authors cherry-picked the PISA because it provides the gloomiest scores. This is one of the basic ways the nation gets propagandized.
We reach our second question:
Our nation still lives in the backwash of centuries of brutal racial history. Meanwhile, many black kids do extremely well in school; many white kids do quite poorly. But on the 2009 PISA, our white kids were reading, on average, like kids from middle-class, unicultural Finland. On average, our black kids were closer to Mexico.
In such a country, does it make sense to have a uniform set of “standards” for every child in each grade? Given the large academic gaps within our ginormous student population, this basic notion has never made a lick of sense. But given the way our “public discourse” works, this question has almost never been raised as the so-called “standards movement” has taken hold in the past twenty years.
In their apparent main point, Hacker and Dreifus worried about the millions of kids—black kids, white kids, Hispanic kids—who are functioning near the bottom end of the vast academic ranges found in our public schools. If those kids can’t make it through high school today, how will they be helped if we make our “standards” tougher?
For kids who are struggling as it is, won’t tougher standards just make matters worse? Hacker and Dreifus seemed to be asking that (very important) question.
Alas! In the cluelessness which never sleeps, the New York Times printed exactly no letters which spoke to this, the authors’ main point. But on Monday, the paper did publish a front-page report which touched on this general question.
Slate and Salon tried to comment.
Almost all our public discussions are built around two kinds of facts. The cluelessness of our elites was on display in Monday’s reports, which tended to withhold basic facts about our nation’s academic divides.
Tomorrow: Can our elites read and do math?