Part 2—Life before Garinger High: Where will Mya Alford, 16, end up going to college?
We have no idea. At present, Alford is president of the junior class at Pittsburgh's historic Westinghouse High. (Alumni include Erroll Garner, Ahmad Jamal and Billy Strayhorn.)
As we noted yesterday, Alford wants to become a chemical engineer. But she didn't have a real chemistry teacher during her sophomore year. And when she was a freshman, she didn't get a permanent biology teacher until midway through the year.
According to the Washington Post, things are better at Westinghouse High this year. But the problem Alford has encountered affects a lot of other kids in our urban school systems.
Back on December 5, Emma Brown did a front-page report on this topic in the Washington Post. Needless to say, her report has produced exactly zero discussion, and zero discussion will follow.
In the New York Times and on cable TV, young journalists have been spending their time in the past week offering vapid speculations about what Cruz and Trump may perhaps and possibly say to each other tonight. This is an utterly pointless waste of time, for which their upper-end "educations" have prepared them quite well.
In the course of all the yammering, you haven't heard a single word about Alford's situation. But along the way in her Post report, Brown described a similar situation in a Charlotte high school.
According to Alford, Westinghouse High is better this year thanks to a hard-charging principal. Brown spoke with a new principal in Charlotte who's trying to fight the same good fight on behalf of some other good kids:
BROWN (12/5/15): Kelly Gwaltney, who formerly served as chief school performance officer in North Carolina's Charlotte-Mecklenburg district, said teacher instability is a common problem in struggling high-poverty schools.For the record, some "permanent substitutes" may be perfectly competent teachers. That said, Gwaltney describes a situation which is absurd on its face.
"The number one reason why people leave is it's hard," Gwaltney said. She left her central-office position this year to become a principal at high-poverty Garinger High, where she hopes to make a bigger difference by working directly with students and teachers.
This fall, she had a group of incoming freshmen who had not had a permanent math teacher in eighth grade. Eighty percent of them were not proficient in math, according to state tests, she said—because "they didn't get instruction last year."
She also had a group of sophomores who had had subs in place of a permanent math teacher. Gwaltney invited those students to an extra month of math lessons during the summer.
"You have to think through what happened last year and what was their experience," she said. "How do you make sure that kids don't go two years without a teacher?"
That said, we'll have to admit that Brown's description of the situation at Garinger High skimmed the surface for us. Principal Gwaltney described a bad deal a bunch of kids were handed before arriving at Garinger High. Implicitly, we the readers were invited to add a note of causation to Brown's report.
We were invited to suppose that those ninth-graders are in a world of hurt because of their missing eighth-grade math instruction. That said, some questions entered our heads:
What percentage of Garinger's other ninth-graders scored "proficient" in eighth-grade math last year? In the current semi-chaos which obtains with changing statewide testing progreams, what percentage of eighth-graders across the state of North Carolina scored proficient?
Concerning those Garinger sophomores who had no regular teacher last year, how far behind the norm are they in math at this point? How much of that potential "gap" could be addressed by one extra month of math instruction over the course of the summer?
Concerning Garinger High as a whole, how many low-income kids go to school there? In general, how far behind the norm are Garinger's kids when they enter as freshmen?
Are they years "below grade level" in math? If so, how many kids are years behind? And how many years behind are they?
Regarding that one group of freshmen, we tried to scare up some answers. It looks to us like 43.2 percent of eighth-graders tested "proficient" in math across the Tarheel State last year, although we wouldn't swear to the accuracy of that figure (see note below).
Beyond that, it looks to us like 23.2 percent of black eighth-graders in North Carolina scored "proficient" in math last year. If that figure is accurate, then those Garinger freshmen may not have scored too far below their peers across the state, though none of this is addressed or explained in Brown's fleeting account.
How far "behind" is that one group of freshmen at Garinger High? How far "behind" are Garinger freshmen in general? We have no idea, and no way of finding out.
That said, we long for the day when big newspapers will present front-page reports which go beyond bare-bones, lightly novelized accounts of the type Brown offered in that passage. We also long for the day when questions like these get asked:
If some kids are years "behind grade level" in math when they enter Garinger High, what sort of math instruction do they receive in ninth grade? And by the way:
Given the broad range of achievement levels displayed by kids by the start of ninth grade, how do states like North Carolina adjust instruction to meet the varying needs of their kids? In line with current conventional practice, our states keep churning out uniform "standards" in reading and math for each of the various grades. (Or they accept the Common Core standards for each grade.) But how in the world can these uniform standards be applied in American classrooms, given the widely varying achievement levels displayed by American kids?
That last question is the most obvious on the face of the earth. In forty-plus years of public school watching, we have never seen a major newspaper ask that obvious question.
On cable TV, our upper-end children are speculating about what Cruz might say tonight. On the rare occasions when they stoop to discuss the school lives of low-income kids, they rarely show the slightest sign of knowing what questions to ask—or of caring about those lives, the school lives of good decent kids. We care about churning dumb stupid shit concerning Cruz and Trump.
(Rachel burned half her show in the same old way, obsessing again about why Rand Paul will be included tonight. Few topics could be more pointless.)
Ten days ago, Emma Brown described a problem which will go undiscussed. We pretend that we care about low-income kids. The evidence say we don't.
Since Brown's front-page report appeared, no one has had a word to say about the school lives of Mya Alford and so many other good kids. Instead, our TV stars ranted, raved and railed last week about a statement or question by Justice Scalia concerning admission procedures at the University of Texas.
We love to rant and rave and rail about such disgraceful statements, especially when they're made by those in The Other Tribe. Meanwhile, what's going on at Garinger High?
Few folk in our tribe give a good goldarn! Few facts could be much more obvious.
Tomorrow: School lives in the state of Texas! We'll start with what Justice Ginsberg said.
Concerning those North Carolina data: It looks to us like 43.2 percent of North Carolina eighth-graders tested "proficient" in math last year.
(States are making it harder to score proficient. Inevitably, these are subjective standards.)
Beyond that, it looks to us like 23.2 percent of black eighth graders scored proficient. It looks like 27.7 percent of low-income kids scored proficient.
We can't swear to those figures. Not long ago, North Carolina published test score data which were extremely user-friendly. Today, as with many other states, North Carolina almost seems to be trying to make it harder to get accurate data.
We started here, then clicked some more. We don't feel sure about what we found. Maybe you can do better.