MONDAY, MAY 12, 2014
But what are we trying to solve: All week long, we’ll be trying to solve Tuscaloosa.
We refer to the problems in the Tuscaloosa City schools, problems explored by Nikole Hannah-Jones in a 10,000-word report for ProPublica.
Hannah-Jones’ fascinating report appears in The Atlantic. All week long, we’ll be trying to solve the problems she uncovered.
This is our second week on this topic. For last Friday’s post, just click here.
All week long, we’ll be trying to solve Tuscaloosa. That said:
Before we can solve Tuscaloosa, we have to define what its problems are. Here are the problems as we found them in Hannah-Jones’ extremely lengthy report, which focuses on D’Leisha Dent, a senior at Central High School:
Here are the problems as we saw them unfold in that report:
Central High’s students are all black. Something like 83 percent of its students qualify as “low-income.” (That isn’t a measure of poverty.)
In our view, so far, so good! But doggone it! Here are the fundamental problems as we see them described in Hannah-Jones’ report:
Last year, only two students at Central High passed the Advanced Placement English test.
This year, Dent is in the 17-member Advanced Placement class—and she has been scoring so poorly on the ACT that she may not be able to attend a four-year college next year, despite the fact that she’s senior class president, homecoming queen and a three-time state champion in track.
This suggests a greatly unfortunate situation, a national disaster and disgrace:
If Dent is in that AP class, what is the academic status of the rest of Central High’s senior class? On its face, the seventeen kids in that AP class seems to represent the top ten percent of Dent’s original freshman class at Central.
Is she is part of her class’ academic elite and she is scoring 16 on the ACT, what’s going on with the other ninety percent of her class? What’s their academic standing?
That’s the question which leaped out at us from Hannah-Jones’ extremely lengthy report. Amazingly, Hannah-Jones almost completely ignores this question in the course of her chapter-length 10,000 words.
At one point, Hannah-Jones even said that Dent “excels in school.” She never really wondered about, or attempted to measure, the academic status of the rest of her senior class.
In our view, Hannah-Jones largely glossed that question. In part, that’s because she tends to define Tuscaloosa’s problem a bit differently than we do.
Hannah-Jones focuses on Central High’s lack of “integration”—on its “resegregation,” its status as an “apartheid school.” Like about one third of Tuscaloosa’s black kids, D’Leisha Dent has gone all the way through her city’s public schools without having any white classmates.
We agree with Hannah-Jones; in principle, we think that’s unfortunate too. (For the record, Tuscaloosa’s student population is only about twenty percent white.)
But for Hannah-Jones, that’s the featured problem in her report. For us, the featured problem is the academic status of Dent, a superlative kid, and that of the many kids at Central High who apparently rank ever lower on the academic scale.
We wish Dent had gone to school with black and white kids too. Hallelujah! The large majority of black kids in Tuscaloosa City and County public schools do have that experience, at least on the high school level.
(Central High is the only single-race high school of the nine public high schools in Tuscaloosa County, of which Tuscaloosa City is part.)
Dent, a superlative kid, did not have a mixed-race experience in twelve years of public school. We think that’s a loss for the country too. But for us, the starting point in this report is the remarkable academic profile Hannah-Jones almost completely ignores.
We refer to the academic profile of Central High School’s 700-plus students.
What’s going on at Central High? What’s going on in the elementary and middle schools which send kids to Central? What’s overall academic achievement like in these schools?
If we can answer those questions, how can Central High’s academic problems be solved? How can we solve Tuscaloosa?
We have to start by defining that city’s problems. We’ll be trying to solve Tuscaloosa all week, remembering that the problems Hannah-Jones highlights and glosses are found in every part of the country.
We won’t just be trying to solve Tuscaloosa. We’ll be trying to solve New York City too.
Tomorrow: In the Tuscaloosa News, Hannah-Jones defines her focus