ONCE AGAIN, THAT'S RICH: Concerning Berkeley's achievement gaps!

WEDNESDAY, MAY 11, 2016

Part 3—Regarded as puzzling by Rich:
It's a very important fact. In recent decades, black kids and Hispanic kids have made major gains in reading and math on academic achievement tests.

We refer to their scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (the NAEP), our most reliable domestic testing program.

The gains by "minority" kids have been large. Attempting to preach to the unconcerned, we've catalogued the data time after time.

The gains have been quite large. In a slightly rational world, this would be seen as very good news. But for reasons that remain unexplained, you essentially never encounter this fact in newspapers like the New York Times.

Like other major news orgs, the New York Times reports the gaps, but never discusses the gains.

In 2013, Stanford professor Sean Reardon did chronicle some of the gains in a lengthy New York Times essay. Lustily, the analysts cheered this unusual act.

Last week, the New York Times tried to report Professor Reardon's massive new study of achievement patterns in American schools. We thought the effort went poorly.

Lead reporter Motoko Rich has been a journalist for several decades. That said, she only became an education reporter in 2012.

In our view, it shows. In our view, Rich displays a constant lack of savvy—a lack of savvy which happily coexists with the Times' favored narratives about public schools. She began last Tuesday's report in the way shown below.

Already, we thought she was perhaps possibly taking some liberties. For the record, a type of error has already been made in that hard-copy headline:
RICH (5/3/16): In Schools Nationwide, Money Predicts Success

We've long known of the persistent and troublesome academic gap between white students and their black and Hispanic peers
in public schools.

We've long understood the primary reason, too: A higher proportion of black and Hispanic children come from poor families. A new analysis of reading and math test score data from across the country confirms just how much socioeconomic conditions matter.

Children in the school districts with the highest concentrations of poverty score an average of more than four grade levels below children in the richest districts. (Reliable estimates were not available for Asian-Americans.)
We don't know why that parenthetical remark appeared at the end of paragraph 3. It would have made more sense at the end of the previous paragraph.

Meanwhile, why weren't reliable estimates available for Asian-Americans? It would have made sense to explain that point.

In comments at several sites, we've seen the inevitable claim that Asian-American kids were eliminated from Reardon's study because their relative success in school undermines preferred liberal narratives. Why aren't there data for such kids? It would have made sense to explain.

Set all that to the side! We already wondered if Rich was taking liberties at the start of paragraph 2. This question came to mind:

Do we know that "the primary reason" for our racial achievement gaps involves the income levels of minority families? We don't know if that's true.

Granted, that's an imprecise claim. But when we read that statement by Rich, we thought of some unfortunate facts from the most recent NAEP data.

Below, you see terrible, horrible facts. Whatever may explain these facts, they represent the part of the record involving the gaps, not the gains.

By a very rough rule of thumb, ten points on the NAEP scale is often compared to one academic year—to our "grade level." In this presentation, "lower-income kids" are those who qualify for the federal lunch program. "Higher-income kids" are those who don't qualify:
Average achievement, Grade 8 math, 2015 NAEP
White higher-income kids: 298.32
White lower-income kids: 275.94

Black higher-income kids: 273.58
Black lower-income kids: 255.82
It's an ugly fact about the gaps as opposed to the gains. On these, our most reliable tests, lower-income white kids tend to outscore higher-income black kids.

That's a horrible fact; we'll guess the reasons are varied. In the Times, you'll never learn about the very large gains. But you'll also never learn that the gaps include data this ugly.

Beyond that, you'll only hear about certain possible reasons for our very large gaps. In truth, the New York Times devotes very little space to the lives and interests of black kids. Such little space as it does devote will be narrowly sifted.

The data shown above represent a national tragedy. For starters, they represent a lot of unhappiness on the part of a whole lot of good decent kids—good kids who have an unpleasant, relatively unproductive time in their public schools.

Needless to say, those data also represent a tremendous loss of potential. What are the reasons for this waste? In Rich's report, you heard speculations about one class of reasons, while others were ignored.

Uh-oh! Motoko Rich is neither experienced, nor especially savvy, concerning the public schools. She writes for a big, upper-class business venture which doesn't much care about black kids and panders to its upper-class readers and to establishment narratives.

Before we're done this week, we'll look at Rich's fleeting attempts to explain our very large gaps. Today, though, let's explore the type of cluelessness which dominates Times education reporting—education reporting at a paper which doesn't seem to require experience or savvy from its education reporters.

As Rich continued, she instantly went off the rails. If you actually care about the interests of our so-called black kids, you should be furious when you see the Times perform in a manner so scripted and so defiantly clueless:
RICH (continuing directly): Even more sobering, the analysis shows that the largest gaps between white children and their minority classmates emerge in some of the wealthiest communities, such as Berkeley, Calif.; Chapel Hill, N.C.; and Evanston, Ill.

The study, by Sean F. Reardon, Demetra Kalogrides and Kenneth Shores of Stanford, also reveals large academic gaps in places like Atlanta and Menlo Park, Calif., which have high levels of segregation in the public schools.

Why racial achievement gaps were so pronounced in affluent school districts is a puzzle raised by the data...
At this point, we're less than six paragraphs in. Already, Rich is deep in the woods.

For starters, ask yourself this. Are Berkeley, Chapel Hill and Evanston really "some of the wealthiest communities" in the country?

To be honest, no, they aren't. There are various ways to measure a community's wealth; household income, family income, and per capita income are three. But by none of measures are those communities among the nation's wealthiest.

They do exceed the national average in all those measures. That said, Chapel Hill and Berkeley also exceed the national average in their poverty rates, with Evanston not far behind.

Below, you see Berkeley's poverty rate, as compared to five near-by communities. We're working with the Census Bureau's current estimates:
Poverty rates, six California communities
Berkeley: 20.0%
San Francisco: 13.3%
San Jose: 11.9%
Marin County: 8.8%
Palo Alto: 5.3%
Orinda: 1.4%
Orinda is a wealthy community right next door to Berkeley. Its median household income is almost three times that of Berkeley. When you look at those poverty rates, is it "puzzling" to think that Berkeley's achievement gaps might exceed those in Orinda?

For the record, Chapel Hill's poverty rate stands at 21.7 percent. Nationally, the poverty rate is 15.6 percent. Are we still inclined to call Chapel Hill one of our "wealthiest communities?" Times reporter, please!

Why did Rich think that Berkeley, Chapel Hill and Evanston could sensibly be described as "some of the wealthiest communities?" To tell you the truth, we have an idea. It's based on one of the Times' interactive graphics, but it takes us deep into the weeds.

We may get there tomorrow! At any rate, are those cities three of our wealthiest communities? Basically, no, they aren't. Nor is that the way they're described in the report from the Stanford Graduate School of Education which announced Professor Reardon's new study.

Jonathan Rabinovitz wrote the report; he's a communications official with Stanford's Graduate School of Ed. He specifically mentioned Berkeley and them, but this is the way he described them:
RABINOVITZ (4/29/16): Reardon and colleagues...identify large white‐black achievement gaps in such major school districts as Atlanta; Auburn City, Alabama; Oakland, California; Tuscaloosa, Alabama; Charleston, South Carolina; and Washington, D.C. They also find significant black-white gaps in a number of smaller school districts that are home to major universities: Berkeley, California; Chapel Hill, North Carolina; Charlottesville, Virginia; Evanston, Illinois; and University City, Missouri.
Please. As anyone but a New York Times reporter would have expected, Berkeley, Chapel Hill and them were described as sites "of smaller school districts that are home to major universities."

Is it really "puzzling" to think that such communities might have especially large achievement gaps? On face, it isn't puzzling at all! That leads us back to the problem with that New York Times headline: "In Schools Nationwide, Money Predicts Success."

That headline isn't false. It also doesn't capture the scope of the Stanford study, which compares achievement patterns to socioeconomic advantage, not to economic advantage alone.

In this paper, Professor Reardon describes the range of factors his study attempts to correlate with academic performance. "I use six measures of the socioeconomic composition of families living in a district with children enrolled in public schools," he writes; "1) median family income; 2) percent of adults with a bachelor’s degree or higher degree; 3) poverty rate; 4) unemployment rate; 5) SNAP eligibility rate; 6) the percent of families headed by a single parent."

Reardon isn't comparing academic achievement to measures of income alone. He also considers how many families in a school district are headed by a single parent, along with the "percent[age] of adults with a bachelor’s degree or higher degree."

Please. Inevitably, a school district like Chapel Hill's will have an unusual number of children from two-professor, two-doctorate homes. This provides them with a large educational advantage, even aside from the normal degree of advantage which would be associated with above-average family income.

Is it "puzzling" when a community like Berkeley has large achievement gaps? Unless you're an education reporter for the Times, it's hard to imagine why.

Berkeley is home to a black population with a 29.2 poverty rate. It's also home to a white population which actually is well-off. Beyond that, it presumably includes a healthy dollop of the one- or two-professor families whose children come to school with increased educational advantage.

Why would a competent reporter find that city's large achievement gaps "puzzling?" A competent writer wouldn't, but this is the New York Times, a puzzling paper whose puzzling work tends to be especially sad when it pretends to discuss the nation's public schools.

Welcome to the world of the Times! Somehow, Rich got it into her head that Berkeley and Chapel Hill are among our wealthiest communities. She said it was puzzling that districts like those would have large achievement gaps.

And yes—she was discussing Chapel Hill when she made that puzzling remark. Tomorrow, we'll look at the way she sought to explain Chapel Hill's achievement gaps as she continued in paragraph 6. From there, we'll move on to other key questions about Reardon's new study, questions Rich dealt with in standardized drive-by fashion.

For us, the bottom line frequently comes to this: the New York Times doesn't seem to care a great deal about the lives and interests of the nation's black kids. The paper doesn't seem to care about such kids, except to the extent that they can be used to spoon-feed a standard set of narratives to the Times' underfed readers.

Tomorrow: Explaining Chapel Hill—and rushing past Union City

15 comments:

  1. A new analysis of reading and math test score data from across the country confirms just how much socioeconomic conditions matter.

    The meaning of the word "matter" is fuzzy. It seems to imply that socioeconomic conditions cause students to do well or poorly. But, correlation isn't causation. Chances are that the nature of the parents affects both their socioeconomic status and their children's educational success.

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    1. Dave the Guitar PlayerMay 11, 2016 at 12:25 PM

      I think you are going to need to expand your description of the "nature" of parents that affects the success of their children. I think you are maybe suggesting that parents are the primary cause for the success or failure of their children at public schools. Is that what you were saying?

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    2. Here is what I had in mind:

      people with high intelligence and disciplined work habits are more likely to be prosperous. To the degree that intelligence is heritable and children learn their parents' work habits, the children are more to well in school.

      In short, socioeconomic status did not cause the good grades. These two things are both effects of another cause.

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    3. Not supported by the facts, David. Parents who read to their kids and value literacy (behaviors, not genetics) produce kids who do better in school. Books cost money, they are a luxury item, poor and lower middle class parents don't spend their money on them. That goes double for music lessons, trips, visits to plays, museums, concerts, good health care, and so on. Poor people are more likely to live in noisier environments, which affects concentration at school and also at home (for doing homework or recreational reading). Poor parents are more likely to use TV/tablets as babysitters because there is less for kids to do in the home/neighborhood. These are not beneficial educationally. When you add in lead exposure (higher near freeways where poorer neighborhoods exist), you have a bunch of environmental factors that have nothing to do with genetics.

      There are statistics on the correlation between IQ and income. It is weaker than you imagine. Success in life depends more on social skills. That leads to racism and discrimination as causes of income disparities, not disciplined work habits.

      You clearly don't understand how hard many poor people work, especially those in immigrant communities. Poor people may work several low-paid jobs to make ends meet, far more hours, with far more discipline than white collar workers, for much less pay. Your idea about the correlation between hard work and income is wrong too. The social status of the job is more correlated to income than how hard the worker works.

      You need to read Barbara Ehrenreich's book Nickled and Dimed. She spends a month trying to live on minimum wage in three types of jobs: Walmart clerk, waitress, house cleaner. Notice what she is expected to do in those jobs, how hard she must work and what her working conditions are like. Work habits aren't going to change her standard of living. Education does that, but educational opportunities are limited from birth for some children, not by IQ or anything heritable, but by the circumstances their parents live in, which they themselves were born into and did their best to overcome.

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    4. You clearly don't understand how hard many poor people work, especially those in immigrant communities.

      My father was an immigrant. I was raised in an immigrant community. So, I think I do understand. We didn't have to afford books, because I used the public library. However, my family had respect for books and for learning. This attitude served me well.

      As for Barbara Ehrenreich. I lived for two years as a grad student supporting a wife and a child on a fellowship of around $200/month. This was back in 1966-68, so $200 went farther than it does now. Even so, that was very little money. In 1967, the minimum wage was $1.60/hour. That's $3200/year for full-time employment for 2000 hours. My income of $2400/year was equivalent to 75% of the minimum wage. So, I have experienced living below minimum wage income, too.

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  2. Major Cable Star neglects to inform Bernie that the Democratic Party already has their very own cable news outlet.

    "In a sympathetic interview taped in Vermont with MSNBC's Rachel Maddow that aired on Friday night, socialist presidential contender Bernie Sanders insisted the American people are "a little bit tired of corporate media" and "we have got to think about ways that the Democratic Party, for a start, starts funding the equivalent of Fox television."

    Even The Huffington Post thought that sounded a little funny: "Of course, MSNBC is a corporate media outlet that is widely seen as a Democratic version of Fox News because of the perceived sympathies of many of its political talk shows."


    http://newsbusters.org/blogs/nb/tim-graham/2016/05/09/sanders-wants-socialist-version-fox-news

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    1. Dave the Guitar PlayerMay 11, 2016 at 12:27 PM

      Not relevant. Start your own blog please.

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    2. Absence of Rachel Maddow Show references are the anomaly for B.S. and howlers. How could this be irrelevant? Keep on plucking.

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  3. I'd be interested to see a study just on factor 6 alone. IIRC, single-parent outcomes are much worse across the board, and single-parent families are much more common in the black community. I recall a bit by Chris Rock from back in the day: "If a kid calls his grandma "Mommy" and his mama "Pam", he's going to jail!" That's an amusing way of stating a very real problem. ISTM that the single factor that would help the black community the most would be addressing teenage pregnancy. According to the graph here black and hispanic teens appear to have children roughly twice as frequently as white teens, who in turn have children roughly twice as frequently as Asian teens. This strikes me as fairly obviously predictive of educational outcomes of these demographics.

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    1. Matt's intuition about single-parent homes is a bit complicated. When single parents are more likely to send their kids to preschool (because the single parent must work), the kids benefit academically from the early preschool experiences. If the single parent is poor and unemployed or underemployed and the child spends a lot of time in a deprived environment, there is no such benefit. This argues in favor of universal preschool, in my opinion.

      Matt, are you aware that teen pregnancy is at its lowest rate and has been steadily declining for decades? Also, are you aware that access to abortion, emergency conraception and contraception are what drive the numbers? Have you contributed to Planned Parenthood recently?

      Your ugly remark (attributed to Chris Rock) about grandparents is misguided. Most studies show that quality care can be provided by any type of family organization (single father, two fathers or mothers, grandparents, adoptive parents) without harming the child. What matters is the quality of the care, not who provides it. When grandparents are doing the parenting, there are other problems in the home besides the grandparents stepping up to help raise a child. So, I don't see anything very amusing about the joke. It demeans the successful efforts of many grandparents who are needed for a variety of reasons, including death or parents, being called to active military duty, incapacitation by chronic illness, and in some cases, unfitness for parenthood of the natural parents. Most adoptive parents become parents because natural parents cannot do the job. It isn't funny and the folks who step in deserve to be considered parents in every sense of the word.

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    2. >Matt's intuition about single-parent homes is a bit complicated. When single parents are more likely to send their kids to preschool (because the single parent must work), the kids benefit academically from the early preschool experiences. If the single parent is poor and unemployed or underemployed and the child spends a lot of time in a deprived environment, there is no such benefit. This argues in favor of universal preschool, in my opinion.

      The implication is all else being equal, obviously. Why waste my time with this?

      >Matt, are you aware that teen pregnancy is at its lowest rate and has been steadily declining for decades? Also, are you aware that access to abortion, emergency conraception and contraception are what drive the numbers? Have you contributed to Planned Parenthood recently?

      It was literally right there in the link I provided, so yes, I'm aware of that. And I'd agree that one major approach to combating teen pregnancy is access to contraceptives and abortion. Not sure what your point is.

      >Your ugly remark (attributed to Chris Rock) about grandparents is misguided. Most studies show that quality care can be provided by any type of family organization (single father, two fathers or mothers, grandparents, adoptive parents) without harming the child.

      Of course it can, but in general, it's not as good. That's kinda the point. The rest of your post is butthurt whinging that you can stuff.

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    3. What a lovely person you are, Matt.

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  4. HSAY, Matt? IMHO, PDS.

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  5. The Vergara lawsuit in CA got a lot of attention but I doubt many people know that the lower court ruling was overturned on appeal on April 14.

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