Can’t get the simplest facts right: How broken is our intellectual culture?
This morning, the Washington Post has done it again!
In a bungled news report, Ovetta Wiggins discusses a very large DC-area school system. In the process, she and her unnamed editor make a ham-handed factual error concerning a basic statistic:
WIGGINS (4/22/14): The Prince George’s County school system has experienced a slight bump in enrollment for the first time in a decade, with nearly 2,000 more students attending the county’s schools this year than last.As we’ve noted many times, eligibility for free and reduced-price meals is not “a federal measure of poverty.”
County leaders have trumpeted the increase as a sign that the long-struggling school system, which has lost an average of 1,000 students a year during the past 10 years, is moving in the right direction. Increased enrollment means increased funding, and, they said, the additional resources will help as the district continues to turn itself around.
But along with the increased enrollment comes a sobering statistic: About 1,300—or 65 percent—of the new students in Prince George’s are eligible for free and reduced-price meals, a federal measure of poverty. The percentage of new students who are eligible for free and reduced-price meals is slightly higher than the overall average percentage of county students coming from poor families.
Wiggins misstates this point all through her piece, creating an erroneous and unfortunate picture of Prince George’s County, a large, majority-black jurisdiction in DC’s Maryland suburbs.
(Prince George’s County is the nation’s 21st largest school district. For a full list, click here.)
How many times does it have to be said? Eligibility for free and reduced-price meals is not a measure of “poverty.”
Eligibility for the program extends to families whose incomes are roughly twice the federal poverty level. When education writers don’t know that, it’s like a sports writer who doesn’t know the number of outs in an inning.
(Answer: Three for each team.)
Eligibility for free and reduced-price meals is not a measure of “poverty.” But the Washington Post, which proselytizes about public school policy, routinely misstates this basic, bone-simple fact.
All through her piece, Wiggins misstates the number of kids in PG County who are “poor” or “in poverty.” Here is one such passage:
WIGGINS: Enrollment last year was down 14,000 students from a decade earlier, when in the 2003-2004 school year there were 137,000 students. As enrollment dropped over the years, the percentage of students from poor families increased. In 2008, 44 percent of the students qualified for free or reduced-price meals. That will be closer to 63 percent by the end of this year, estimates Joan Shorter, the system’s director of food and nutrition services.It’s true that Prince Georges County is less affluent than other nearby subdivisions. But eligibility for free or reduced price is not a measure of poverty. Here are some basic facts:
Of the 125,000 students attending county schools as of Oct. 31, a little more than 61 percent come from poor families, Shorter said. A year earlier, the number was a little more than 59 percent.
According to NAEP testing data, 52 percent of U.S. fourth graders were eligible for free or reduced price lunch in 2011. (Click here, scroll to page 75.)
That doesn’t mean that 52 percent of U.S. fourth-graders were living in poverty.
The Prince George’s percentage is somewhat higher than that. That isn’t a measure of poverty either!
It’s amazing that the Washington Post keeps making this bone-simple error. But other publications make it too. In one area after another, that’s how our discourse works.
This report is wrong on its basic facts. It spreads a stereotypical, unhelpful picture of Prince George’s County.
In one area after another, that’s the way our discourse works. In the year 2014, we’re a very low-IQ people.
Our “press corps” is barely alive.