Part 1—Two important issues: The analysts presented their claim. We checked their claim, and found it was right!
Next Monday, September 7, has been declared Labor Day in this country! That means it’s time for our annual review of the mainstream press corps’ back-to-school reporting.
As we’ve noted through the years, the press corps typically does a terrible job covering public school issues. Their technical competence tends to be nil. Beyond that, they tend to be slaves to elite narratives in which American schools are in headlong decline, thanks to our ratty teachers with their infernal unions.
Meanwhile, “liberal” news orgs—think MSNBC—manifestly don’t give a fig about low-income schools or the children within them. When liberal indifference meets mainstream incompetence, we the people tend to be left with a vile journalistic brew.
That said, let’s be fair to the journalists! Routinely, their jobs are complicated by the failing work of education officials and “education experts.” Also, by the work of education professors, including some who may reside at the nation’s very best schools.
This year, we’ll focus on a pair of topics which have appeared in the press corps’ back-to-school reporting. Plainly, each topic is very important. In our view, each topic has been mangled by the press corps within the past week.
First question: To what extent has an education miracle occurred in the New Orleans schools? The anniversary of Katrina has brought this question center stage. At New York magazine, Jonathan Chait has even declared that a “revolution” has occurred in Big Easy schools.
Chait’s piece appears beneath this headline: “How New Orleans Proved Urban-Education Reform Can Work.” To state the obvious, claims like these are very important—but only if they’re true!
Chait finds it easy not to be hard about Big Easy schools. “The creation of high-achieving urban charter schools is one of the most impressive triumphs of American social policy,” he generically says at the start of his piece, before he reaches News Orleans. “In a short period of time, urban charters have yielded impressive, even astonishing, success at closing the academic achievement gap between the poorest children and more privileged ones.”
Already, those claims are deeply important—but only if they’re true! But then, Chait states a second conclusion. In Chait’s view, the New Orleans schools have succeeded in closing the achievement gap as no one else has done.
Say you want a revolution? Chait uses that very word:
CHAIT (8/24/15): Nowhere has this revolution had a more dramatic impact than in New Orleans, because nowhere has reform been carried out with such breadth. Ten years ago, Hurricane Katrina wiped out huge swaths of the city’s infrastructure and displaced its population, a disaster that paradoxically gave the city the chance to redesign its failing school system. Rather than re-create the neighborhood-based schools that had recapitulated generations of poverty, the city created a network of public charter schools. The charters, which have open admission and public accountability, have produced spectacular results...Those are deeply important claims, if true. Does Chait know what he’s talking about? He made these statements one week ago. At your favorite corporate liberal precincts, his claims will go undiscussed.
What’s happening in the New Orleans schools? If you give the tiniest fig about low-income kids, that’s an important question. But then, so is a second question. It reached the press through a study by two professors at Penn, an Ivy League institution.
Although their work is hard to parse, the professors are asking some version of a pre-existing question: Why do black kids get suspended and expelled in our public schools at much higher rates than other kids?
If you care about low-income kids, that’s an important question. The new study which raises this question was released at the start of last week, leading to this news report in last Tuesday’s New York Times.
From there, the topic has jumped to other major news orgs. The new study has been reported by NPR and PBS, by the Atlantic, the National Journal and Slate. The new Penn study has been reported by the Christian Science Monitor and by an array of major regional newspapers.
The new Penn study has been reported, and substantially bungled, by Education Week. It was ever thus!
Chait is claiming success in New Orleans. The professors are claiming mistreatment of black kids all through the nation’s public schools, but especially in the public schools of the South.
In Penn’s official press release, you get the flavor of their claims, although their claims are actually hard to parse. Headline included:
Penn GSE Report Offers District-By-District Look At How Black Students Are Disciplined At Highest Rates In Southern SchoolsThose are very important claims, especially when you consider the source. After all, Penn’s press release has this to say about its Graduate School of Education (GSE):
PHILADELPHIA, Aug. 25, 2015: In schools across the United States, Black students are punished more severely than their peers. But nowhere are Black students suspended or expelled more than in the South. Fifty-five percent of the 1.2 million Black students suspended in the U.S. live in just 13 Southern states.
In a new report, the Center for the Study of Race and Equity in Education at the University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education offers a state-by-state, school district-by-district examination of school discipline for Black students in the South.
Researchers Edward Smith and Shaun Harper found Black students were consistently suspended and expelled at higher rates than their peers across the region. This held true in urban, suburban, and rural districts, for both Black boys and Black girls. The study is an analysis of every public school district in the South, over 3,000.
”The findings in our report point to the residual effects of Jim Crow, slavery, and unequal schooling,” Harper said. “They are further explained by poverty trends, structural inequities in the education workforce, and a longstanding history of racial injustice that cyclically reproduces itself, especially across these 13 Southern states.”
“Penn GSE is one of the nation's premier research education schools. No other education school enjoys a university environment as supportive of practical knowledge building as the Ivy League's University of Pennsylvania.”
Nobody does it quite like Penn! If they do say so themselves!
For the actual study, click here.
Is a revolution occurring in New Orleans? Are black kids being unfairly disciplined, especially across the South? Except at a place like MSNBC, these are very important questions. If we care about low-income kids at all, questions like these greatly matter.
Starting next Tuesday, we’ll review the way our big news orgs have handled these questions in this year's back-to-school reporting. In the next few days, we’ll offer some background information, helping you get ready for the start of school topics next week.
Tomorrow, we’ll provide a bit of background about test scores in New Orleans. On Wednesday, we’ll provide some basic background to that study from Penn.
What’s going on in New Orleans schools? We’re not sure we can answer that question. Are black kids being mistreated in public schools, especially across the South? Those questions are challenging too, especially when academic studies are larded with misdirection.
That said, John White is Louisiana’s state superintendent of education. It’s fairly easy to be hard on his recent pimping of New Orleans schools.
As for those professors at Penn, their work is truly awful. Does anyone care about low-income kids? The gruesome work of our elites suggests an answer:
Not really. Pretty much no!
Tomorrow: The superintendent’s data
Coming Wednesday: Where do black kids live?