The way journalism works: Roughly 315 million people live in the U.S.
Given that fact, you’d think a recent report in Education Week simply couldn’t exist.
The piece, which was written by Sarah Sparks, concerns the rising number of American children who are living in poverty. It starts like this, headlines included:
SPARKS (10/23/13): Poor Children Are Now a Majority in 17 States' Public SchoolsCould that possibly be true, we wondered, if only for a brief moment. Could it be true that nearly half of American students are now living in poverty?
Study finds poverty rising in every state since 2000
Nearly half of all American public school students now live in poverty, and in broad swaths of the South and Southwest, state supports have not kept pace with significant and rapidly rising majorities of poor students in classrooms, a new report finds.
We were fairly sure it wasn’t true. Beyond that, we figured we probably knew what Sparks must have in mind.
Sure enough! As the piece continued, this is what it said:
SPARKS (continuing directly): In 17 states spanning nearly all of the South, Southwest, and West Coast, a majority of public school students qualified for free or reduced-price meals in 2011, according to the analysis released last week by the Atlanta-based Southern Education Foundation.Gack! You don’t have to be living in poverty to qualify for free or reduced-price lunch! The eligibility cut-off is approximately two times the poverty level.
The average person would have no reason to know that. But this report appeared in Education Week, the journalistic Bible for American teachers. Theoretically, we have journalists to straighten such matters out!
In a rational world, it would be hard to believe that such an error could appear in such a journal. But you don’t live in a rational world. You live in a post-journalistic dystopian large mega-mess.
The breakdown isn’t confined to Fox and Salon. As Sparks continued, she just kept compounding her howler:
SPARKS (continuing directly): That's up from four states in 2000, and the study found all states have seen a rapid rise in student poverty during the last decade. Thirty-six states now have statewide poverty rates of more than 40 percent in schools. Mississippi's rate now tops 70 percent.Two out of five students in the suburbs are living in poverty! If the suburb is in the west, the ration is more like half.
That deepening poverty likely will complicate already-fraught political discussions on how to educate American students, as prior research has shown students are significantly more at risk academically in schools with 40 percent or higher concentrations of poverty.
"Once you get above a majority of students in poverty, it becomes increasingly difficult to deal with the problems they've got, and increasingly those problems come to define the direction of the whole school," said Steve T. Suitts, the vice president of the foundation and the author of the study.
Urban areas in every part of the country now have majorities of students in poverty, from 54 percent in Western cities to 71 percent in the Northeast. But nationwide, two out of five students in the suburbs also are poor. In the South and West, the share is closer to half.
According to Sparks, the author of the new study was shocked by what he found. We were shocked by the author of the new study:
SPARKS (continuing directly): Mr. Suitts said he found it "stunning" that three out of every four districts in 15 states across the southern half of the country now have at least 50 percent of their students living in poverty—and often much more. "That pretty well means there's no place you can get away" from concentrated poverty, Mr. Suitts said.Suitts is stunned, and we are too. Within our broken culture, it isn’t just the journalists who cluelessly wander the land. It’s also the people at our foundations, the ones who conduct our research!
There are roughly 315 million people in the United States. One of those people, Sparks’ editor, let this groaner pass.