Part 2—This is what cluelessness looks like: At long last, Michael Bennet has replaced Andrew Rosenthal as editor of the New York Times editorial page.
In fairness, Bennet attended the finest schools. After that, he wrote for the finest publications, as he does today in his post at the Times.
His brother is a United States senator. He travels in the best circles.
You'll have to admit that we're being fair to Bennet. Still, like many folk from the finest circles, he seems to be completely clueless about the challenges found in our public schools.
We base that unflattering judgment on this morning's editorial, in which the Times extols the virtues of "the rigorous Common Core learning standards." The Times seems to regard these rigorous standards as one route to "the kind of education system [the country] needs—one that provides high-level instruction for all children."
We have nothing against the Common Core standards in particular. We've long asked a different question: How could any set of grade-level standards speak to the wide range of students found at any grade level in our public schools?
We've asked variants of that question for the past forty years. We came by our question the old-fashioned way—through seven years as a fifth grade teacher in the Baltimore City Schools, followed by two more years teaching eighth-grade math.
We taught a ton of good decent kids during those years. Today, their children and grandchildren are showing large score gains on our most reliable standardized tests, though large "achievement gaps" still exist.
(Black kids and white kids are scoring much better, as compared to their parents and grandparents. In this way, those gaps persist, although they've gotten smaller.)
How large are the gaps we're talking about? Once again, consider Motoko Rich's puzzling news report from last Tuesday's Times.
As is often the case, Rich's report was marked by factual errors and puzzling logic. Still and all, a headline which tops her report on-line helps define Bennet's apparent cluelessness:
"Sixth graders in the richest school districts are four grade levels ahead of children in the poorest districts."
As it turns out, that sub-headline was arguably misleading or erroneous, depending on how tough a grader you are. As it turns out, the new Stanford study Rich was discussing is a study of grades 3-8, not of grade 6 alone.
That fact is mentioned in Rich's report. The liberty taken in that headline is admittedly minor. That said, significant errors and logical fails quickly appear in the body of Rich's report.
At any rate, consider the general picture which emerges from the new study at Stanford. Consider two school systems Rich cites in her fourth paragraph—the systems which serve the good decent children of Chapel Hill, North Carolina and Berkeley, California.
What kinds of achievement gaps exist in those school districts? According to the Stanford study, these gaps obtain between black and white kids across grades 3-8:
Average achievement levels, grade 3-8Those are huge "achievement gaps." Inevitably, they speak to our brutal national history, and to our failure to rectify its legacies.
White students: 2.7 grades above average
Black students: 1.5 grades below average
Achievement gap: 4.2 grades
Chapel Hill/Carrboro, North Carolina:
White students: 3.5 grades above average
Black students: 0.8 grades below average
Achievement gap: 4.3 grades
Please remember—those are just the average scores for the groups in question. Roughly half the white kids in Chapel Hill must have scored above the lofty average shown above. Roughly half the district's black kids must have scored below their group's average score.
The New York Times editorial board is drawn from the finest circles. Finest minds, riddle us this:
Common Core or otherwise, what kind of "rigorous [grade level] learning standards" could possibly guide the instruction of all the students in those school districts? Indeed, if our achievement gaps are this large at these grade levels, how are statewide or national grade-level "learning standards" supposed to work at all?
We've been asking variants of that question since the 1970s. To our eye, Bennet, who's one of our current best and brightest, seems to maybe possibly lack the first freaking clue.
You shouldn't single him out. In his belief that some set of "rigorous standards" could "provide high-level instruction" for all the kids in Berkeley, Bennet reflects the blinkered discourse which has long obtained about our public schools, from our vaunted "educational experts" on down.
We sometimes wonder if our experts have ever set foot in a public school. Frequently, we're even more puzzled by Rich's education reporting.
Like Bennet, Rich went to the finest schools. According to the New York Times, she graduated from Yale in 1991, summa cum laude. From there, it was on to Cambridge, where she obtained a master's degree, though admittedly only in English.
Rich attended the finest schools. She has written for the finest publications, where she moves in the finest circles.
Presumably, her work is supervised by editors. If these people really exist, they're employed by our finest newspaper. And not only that:
Last Tuesday, Rich's report about Stanford's study appeared beneath the New York Times' "Upshot" heading. This signals Times readers that they are perusing the newspaper's brainiest work.
That cultural excellence went on display in last Tuesday's report. Unfortunately, so did the type of cluelessness found in today's editorial.
Good lord! Please ignore the minor liberty taken in the sub-headline we have quoted. In just her first six paragraphs, Rich makes a puzzling factual error in her description of a set of communities, including Berkeley and Chapel Hill.
Beyond that, she introduces the cosmic cluelessness which pervades her piece. Just consider this awful passage, Rich's paragraphs 3-6. We'll eliminate a parenthetical statement which was weirdly misplaced:
RICH (5/3/16): 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...Phi Beta Kappa, please! Unless we're simply being silly, Berkeley, Chapel Hill and Evanston are not among "the wealthiest communities" in the nation. Nor was that the basis on which they were grouped together in this report by Stanford News about the new Stanford study.
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, which has a high level of segregation in the public schools.
Why racial achievement gaps were so pronounced in affluent school districts is a puzzling question raised by the data...
More significantly, there's absolutely nothing puzzling about the size of the gaps in those school districts, or about the large achievement gaps in Atlanta. If you're an education reporter, you have to be tremendously clueless to find the gaps in those places "puzzling." That said, Rich is clueless about most things all the way through her report.
Tomorrow, we'll discuss the large gaps in the systems we've named, gaps which are about as "puzzling" as Santa's appearance at the mall in December. As the week proceeds, we'll address the other "coherence gaps" which appear all through Rich's piece.
Today, though, consider that editorial, which comes to us from the nation's finest salons. Consider the extremely large achievement gaps in our public schools, and ask yourself these questions:
How could any set of grade-level "standards" guide the education of all the kids in our nation's classrooms, no matter in what grade?
More significantly, how can a Times education reporter be puzzled by Berkeley's large gaps?
Tomorrow: Extremely elementary facts about Berkeley, Chapel Hill and Atlanta