TEACH THE JOURNALISTS WELL: Motoko Rich gets it very right!


Interlude—The editors get it quite wrong: Yesterday morning, Motoko Rich authored one of the best education reports we’ve ever seen in the New York Times.

This morning, the editors offer an editorial which is tired, enormously lazy, wrong. Let’s start with Rich’s report, which could of course have been better.

Let’s say it again—Rich’s piece is one of the best education reports we’ve ever seen in the Times. We’ll grant you, there isn’t a very high bar. But Rich’s piece starts to show what education reporting could be like.

Rich penned the featured news report in yesterday’s National section. Early on, she described one of the ways low-income kids fall behind in their earliest years:
RICH (3/26/14): Amid a political push for government-funded preschool for 4-year-olds, a growing number of experts fear that such programs actually start too late for the children most at risk. That is why Deisy Ixcuna-González, the 16-month-old daughter of Guatemalan immigrants, is wearing a tiny recorder that captures every word she hears and utters inside her family’s cramped apartment one day a week.

Recent research shows that brain development is buoyed by continuous interaction with parents and caregivers from birth, and that even before age 2, the children of the wealthy know more words than do those of the poor. So the recorder acts as a tool for instructing Deisy’s parents on how to turn even a visit to the kitchen into a language lesson. It is part of an ambitious campaign, known as Providence Talks, that is aimed at the city’s poorest residents and intended to reduce the knowledge gap long before school starts.
We’re not sure how “recent” that research is. The problem Rich describes has been understood for some time.

As Rich notes, research shows that low-income kids may be far “behind” their middle-class peers by the time they’re two or three. They’re already “behind” when they go to preschool, or when they start kindergarten.

These children’s loving parents may not understood the dynamic which creates this condition. As she continued, Rich reported that very important fact:
RICH: Educators say that many parents, especially among the poor and immigrants, do not know that talking, as well as reading, singing and playing with their young children, is important. “I’ve had young moms say, ‘I didn’t know I was supposed to talk to my baby until they could say words and talk to me,’ ” said Susan Landry, director of the Children’s Learning Institute at the University of Texas in Houston, which has developed a home visiting program similar to the one here in Providence.

“In the same way that we say you should feed your child, brush their teeth, you should be stimulating their brain by talking, singing and reading to them,” said Ann O’Leary, the director of Too Small to Fail, an initiative aimed at closing the word gap across the country. “We want to move the needle from this being an optional activity to a must-do activity.”
Low-income parents may not know that they should talk to their babies and toddlers. In such ways, the “achievement gaps” which plague our public schools start taking shape in the first years of life.

That highlighted passage is one of the best bits of education reporting we’ve ever seen in the Times. Later, another passage helped illustrate where our achievement gaps come from:
RICH: On a chilly afternoon this month, Ms. Taveras...sat down with Deisy’s parents. María González, who has a third-grade education and spoke her native K’iche’ when she emigrated from Guatemala seven years ago, reviewed a bar chart that showed how many words she and her husband, Rafael Ixcuna, who packs fruit at a factory in the city, had spoken to Deisy on a day the previous week.
Unlike middle-class countries like Finland, about whom the New York Times foolishly fawns, the United States has a vibrant, deeply varied student demographic. That said, this varied demographic includes many immigrant kids who come from low-literacy backgrounds.

It also includes low-income black kids, children caught in the backwash of our brutal racial history.

Our benighted ancestors spent several centuries trying to eliminate literacy in the black community. They didn’t succeed, but many black kids come from low-literacy backgrounds too. Their parents may not understand the best ways to stimulate the developing brains of their babies and toddlers. Ditto for loving parents in white poverty areas.

In this report, Rich starts explaining where our “achievement gaps” come from. She starts describing nationwide efforts to address the situation.

How much better her report would be if she included something like this:

According to the National Assessment of Educational Progress, the nation’s black and Hispanic kids have been performing much better in reading and math over the past several decades. Programs like Too Small to Fail are looking for ways to accelerate this progress.

How much better Rich’s report would have been had she drawn that obvious connection! But alas! In one of its many refusals to serve, the New York Times has never told readers about the growth in the nation’s NAEP scores.

Instead, the paper keeps repeating the bogus claim about the “embarrassing decline in K-12 schools” which defines the elite consensus. For fuller text, see below.

Yesterday, Motoko Rich offered a winning report. This morning, the editors massively fail, in standard slacker fashion.

We refer to this high-outrage, low-IQ editorial, “Giving Up on 4-Year-Olds.” We’re not sure which is worse about this piece—its lazy indifference to information, or its tired, self-glorying pose.

The editors thunder about Rich’s prior report, a report about disparate outcomes in school. Inevitably, they focus on the dumbest part of that report—its treatment of suspensions from pre-K programs.

As usual, the editors mount their chargers, posing as racial heroes. In our view, it’s their sloth, and their lazy indifference, which shine through their piece from the start:
NEW YORK TIMES EDITORIAL (3/27/14): Giving Up on 4-Year-Olds

A new report released by the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, examining the disciplinary practices of the country’s 97,000 public schools, shows that excessively punitive policies are being used at every level of the public school system—even against 4-year-olds in preschool. This should shame the nation and force it to re-evaluate the destructive measures that schools are using against their most vulnerable children.
Does the report in question “show that excessively punitive policies are being used against 4-year-olds in preschool?”

We’d have to say it does not, although that claim could be true. The editors thunder further, exploring some racial dimensions of the new data:
NEW YORK TIMES EDITORIAL: [T]he new data show that disparate treatment of minority children begins early—in preschool. For example, black children represent 18 percent of preschool enrollment but nearly half of all children who receive more than one out-of-school suspension.

The fact that minority children at age 4 are already being disproportionately suspended or expelled is an outrage. The pattern of exclusion suggests that schools are giving up on these children when they are barely out of diapers.
Under Andrew Rosenthal, this editorial board never fails to posture concerning race. Indeed, we would say that they're the ones who are “giving up on (black) children” here.

The editors exhibit their exquisite outrage without making any apparent attempt to investigate or understand this part of that new report:

How many kids get suspended from preschool? The editors don’t seem to know.

Why do kids get suspended from preschool? Why do black kids get suspended more often? As they continue, they show no sign of having inquired, even of the expert they cite:
NEW YORK TIMES EDITORIAL: Federal civil rights officials do not explain why minority preschool students are being disproportionately singled out for suspension.

Regardless of the causes, there are ways to combat this crisis. Walter Gilliam of Yale University, who has studied the expulsion problem extensively, has suggested several ways to minimize it...The goal should be to do everything possible to bring them into the mainstream.
As always, the editors let us see that they're deeply caring. But how odd! In the six days since Rich’s report appeared, they don’t seem to have posed their question to anyone, Gilliam included:

Why are minority kids “being disproportionately singled out for suspension,” if they’re being “singled out” at all? Why do more black kids get suspended from preschool?

The editors don't seem to have asked anyone. Let us offer one possible guess:

Is it possible that some kids from certain low-income backgrounds are less prepared for preschool than other kids may be? We would assume that the answer is yes; if so, it’s important to know that.

But the editors at the New York Times don’t give a fig about low-income kids. They love to posture about their feeling of outrage, letting us see how noble they are. But as they proceed in their know-nothing way, they throw deserving low-income kids under their upper-class bus.

The editors voice their exquisite rage. At that point, their labors are done.

Yesterday, Rich penned a fantastic report. It’s shocking to see such excellent work about education in the New York Times.

Much more familiar is today’s know-nothing roar. The editors memorized their stance long ago. As they hurry off to the Hamptons, they display their familiar old trick.

Tomorrow: How much do our journalists actually know about public schools?

Please don’t bite your neighbor: Nine years ago, the New York Times (and other newspapers) reported a study by Gilliam.

The Los Angeles Times reported a full range of basic findings:
RIVERA (5/17/05): In a report scheduled for release today, the Yale Child Study Center found that nearly seven preschool children per 1,000 are being expelled—for behavioral problems—from state-funded programs, compared with 2.1 per 1,000 elementary, middle and high school students.

In addition, 4-year-olds are expelled more often than 3-year-olds, and boys are expelled at 4.5 times the rate of girls. African American children are twice as likely to be expelled as Latinos or whites and five times as likely as Asian American children.
For the record, that study was based on data from 2003 and 2004. Just so we’ll know, that highlighted passage meant that whites and Latinos were being expelled at 2.5 times the rate of Asian-Americans.

Was that “an outrage” too? Is everything an outrage?

What were the reasons for those expulsions? According to those news reports, the reasons went on and on.

That said, the editors know only one thing when it comes to such matters. They know that they must voice their old-school racial outrage. They must assume that discrimination explains the numbers they say they don’t like.

(Discrimination may explain those numbers to some extent, of course. There is no sign that the editors actually asked anyone about that.)

In our view, if the editors actually cared about black kids, they would get off their keisters and do some real journalism. Instead, consider Bill Keller.

Here was Keller, last August, spreading the standard bullroar around:

“The Common Core was created with a broad, nonpartisan consensus of educators, convinced that after decades of embarrassing decline in K-12 education, the country had to come together on a way to hold our public schools accountable.”

During those “decades of embarrassing decline,” black kids’ NAEP scores have gone way up, in both reading and math.

People who cared about black kids would know that fact. They’d want to report it to others. They’d want to take that hopeful sign and use it to drive more efforts.

Here’s the problem:

The New York Times lives in the past—and in the Hamptons, of course. They have their tired old, mid-60s frameworks. They have their tired old bogus facts.

By the way, why do kids get suspended from preschool?

Biting seems to be one cause. There seem to be quite a few others.


  1. Aside from the all-knowing NYT editors, a lot of "liberal" blogs have jumped on the supposed outrage of kids being suspended. Presumably they have never had the experience of trying to maintain order in a class so that the majority of kids can learn. And they are not responsible themselves for finding the money which would pay for enough people to actually make a dent in the problem in schools.

    The problem is a big one all right, but the idea that school personnel are responsible for the disciplinary problems and "discrimination" is nonsense for several reasons. This finding could help to actually make people aware of the societal problems, but as Bob says for the most part reporters and editors are just not up figuring out what is going on.

  2. I agree with KZ. A lack of discussion here about Crimea nullifies Bob's point that the NYT is stupidly outraged at something that has been a published fact for a decade.

    1. You write just like Bob.

    2. I'm right just like Bob?

    3. Anything is possible. We don't know.

  3. Replies
    1. The excellence continues. Looking forward to some of those test scores!

  4. Paul Tough has done fine reporting on education in (gasp!) the New York Times for years. He wrote about the same language-acquisition research 8 years ago (http://www.nytimes.com/2006/11/26/magazine/26tough.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0). Has Bob largely ignored Paul Tough's reporting because it doesn't fit his narrative of the NYT not caring about the education of disadvantaged kids???

  5. OMB (He's a Very Fast Learner, That BOB!)

    "How do you get suspended from preschool? We don’t know the answer to that.....It may be that almost no one is getting suspended from preschool....We’ll be honest—we didn’t know that kids get suspended from preschool at all." BOB...Just last Friday

    Why do kids get suspended from preschool? Why do black kids get suspended more often?.... Why are minority kids “being disproportionately singled out for suspension,” if they’re being “singled out” at all?...Is it possible that some kids from certain low-income backgrounds are less prepared for preschool than other kids may be? We would assume that the answer is yes; if so, it’s important to know that....

    By the way, why do kids get suspended from preschool?

    Biting seems to be one cause. There seem to be quite a few others. BOB...Today

    KZ (Never Seeming to be Amazed)

  6. Another cause may be the ratio of adults to children in the preschool and/or the level of training of those adults. When adults are present they can intervene before children's squabbles escalate to fighting that may get a child suspended. Kids in poorer preschools may have trouble with staffing.

  7. This sort of flawed analysis is likely to discourage suspending black students, even when their behavior disrupts the class. Allowing disruptive students to remain in class hampers the education of the rest of the class. From what I've read, a high level of discipline is important in education. So, discouraging the suspension of black students may do more harm than good.

    1. I agree with David; indeed, we should take care not to discourage suspending all disruptive blacks from the entire country. When the hamper is full, it is time to wash the clothes.

      From what I've read, David's high level of flawed analysis may do more harm than good.

    2. People mean different things when they talk about "discipline." There needs to be order in a classroom, but order isn't necessarily produced by disciplining children. Classroom management is a skill that can be taught to new teachers. At its best it uses positive reinforcers not punishment to encourage kids to stay on track and avoid disruptive behavior. A well run classroom requires less of what people think of by the word "discipline" but is hard to accomplish when there are too many kids in the room and when some of those kids are unable to participate in planned activities or have difficulties with motivation or self control. Attending preschool from age two or three means kids will be familiar with and know what is expected of them, will have practice conforming to expectations by the time more demands are placed on them. Most people equate "discipline" with punishment. By the time punishment is needed, the teacher and child have already failed. Suspension is an extreme punishment that suggests nothing the teacher can do is effective in helping that child participate in the classroom. A lot has to go wrong before that is true. Get tough power struggles don't work -- as most parents know -- because the child can always take it to a level that the adult cannot go beyond. This is more true today where physical punishment is not allowed, shaming and emotional punishment are distasteful and even time-out is considered abusive. So, teachers and parents both must do more with positive approaches and that takes skill. Without good training neither parent nor teacher has that skill. Returning to the days of beating children is not the answer.

  8. This comment has been removed by the author.

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