Part 1—As seen by the New York Times: On April 29, Stanford News described a new study of achievement patterns in American public schools.
Joseph Rabinovitz wrote the report about the new study. He's Chief Communications Officer at Stanford's Graduate School of Ed.
As he started, Rabinovitz described the basic findings of the new study. On the whole, the basic findings seemed to be very familiar:
RABINOVITZ (4/29/16): Local education inequities across U.S. revealed in new Stanford data setLet's simplify that a bit:
Almost every school district enrolling large numbers of low-income students has an average academic performance significantly below the national grade-level average, according to Stanford Graduate School of Education research based on a massive new data set recently created from more than 200 million test scores.
The research also revealed that nearly all U.S. school districts with substantial minority populations have large achievement gaps between their white and black and white and Hispanic students.
The data, which were made available online April 29, provide the most detailed account yet of academic disparities nationwide. They comprise reading and math test results of some 40 million 3rd to 8th grade students during 2009-13 in every public school district in the country, along with information about socioeconomic status, school district characteristics, and racial and economic segregation.
According to this study, lower-income students score less well on academic tests than higher-income students. Also, black and Hispanic students score less well than white students.
Let's state the obvious. There's nothing new about those basic findings.
The data compiled in the new study may well constitute "the most detailed account yet of academic disparities nationwide." In theory, the compilation of this massive data set may prove helpful to researchers in some way or other.
That said, the basic findings described in that passage don't seem new at all. It has long been clear that higher-income kids outperform lower-income kids on standardized tests. It has long been clear that substantial "achievement gaps" still exist between white kids and their black and Hispanic peers, although those gaps are smaller than they once were.
Stanford's massive data set may prove useful in the future, but the basic findings described in that passage don't seem new at all. Despite that fact, the New York Times decided to publish a major news report about the Stanford study.
In the hard-copy New York Times, the report about the Stanford study appeared on Tuesday, May 3. On-line, the report is accompanied by three interactive graphics. They can be used to access data about many of the nation's school systems, large, small and medium-sized.
You can spend a lot of time with those graphics; we already have. That said, we're mainly puzzled by the Times' report about the Stanford study. In our view, the Times has produced its latest puzzling fail in this, its latest attempt to discuss the nation's schools and the needs of our low-income students.
Motoko Rich was the lead writer on the Times report. We've long felt that she's one of the most puzzling reporters at this puzzling newspaper.
Rich graduated from Yale in 1991—summa cum laude, no less. She didn't join the education beat at the Times until 2012. But based upon her general experience and her academic background, a person would expect basic competence from her reports. We rarely feel that we're seeing that competence when we read Rich's reports.
Late last August, Rich failed to notice the way another academic study had been badly bungled. That study reported that 55% of suspensions of black public school students had occurred in just thirteen southern states.
The study failed to note a basic fact; that corresponds to the percentage of black students who live in those thirteen states. Rich failed to note or mention that fact as she reported the bungled study. This led to additional bungled reporting, as reporters at other publications followed in the Times' wake.
We know of no reason to think that the new Stanford study has been bungled in any way. Indeed, lead researcher Sean Reardon has produced valuable work in the past. In April 2013, he even broke an unwritten rule. In a lengthy New York Times essay, he reported that American kids have shown large score gains on academic tests over the past forty years.
("The average 9-year-old today has math skills equal to those her parents had at age 11, a two-year improvement in a single generation...there is no evidence that average test scores have declined over the last three decades for any age or economic group...The achievement gaps between blacks and whites, and Hispanic and non-Hispanic whites, have been narrowing slowly over the last two decades.")
Those are among the least reported significant facts in our American discourse. Professor Reardon cited those facts in the New York Times! No one else ever does.
We know of no errors in Professor Reardon's new study. That said, we also can't say we see any exciting new findings in the study, though the massive new data set may prove to be of use.
That said, Rich's report on Reardon's had us frustrated and confused right from the opening whistle. She makes her first groaning error in paragraph 4—and yes, it's a genuine howler.
In the course of her report, Rich expresses puzzlement over phenomena which seem about as puzzling as melting ice on a hot July day. As is routinely the case at the Times, she works within some strained old frameworks and story lines while disappearing the rest.
The Stanford study deals with topics which are extremely important. Low-income kids deserve to be happier in their schools. They deserve to emerge from those schools with stronger ties to the culture of literacy and with stronger academic skills.
Our low-income schools are full of good decent kids; these children deserve the best. In the realm of journalism, subscribers to the New York Times surely think that's what they're getting from their paper of choice.
In fact, the New York Times tends to do terrible work on the nation's public schools. This new report is the paper's latest puzzling report on a very important topic involving our low-income kids.
Given its famous "brand," the incompetence of the New York Times is perhaps its most striking attribute. That incompetence is rarely far from the scene, especially when the failing newspaper attempts to discuss the good decent kids who attend our public schools.
Tomorrow: Frankly, those cities aren't rich