Interlude—Our incomparable plans for next week: According to Professor Reardon's new study, Atlanta's public schools feature large achievement gaps.
We don't know if Reardon was able to adjust his data in response to the cascades of cheating which occurred in Atlanta's schools during some of the years in question. At any rate, this is the black-white achievement gap his study recorded for Atlanta, as reported by the New York Times:
Average achievement levels, grades 3-8Those are horrible numbers. They represent a tremendous amount of unhappiness and a giant amount of waste.
Atlanta Public Schools
White students: 2.9 grades above average
Black students: 1.5 grades below average
Achievement gap: 4.4 grades
How can we explain an achievement gap that large? Where does an achievement gap of that size come from? When the New York Times reported Reardon's study, Motoko Rich cited Atlanta early in her text. This is the passage as it appeared our hard-copy Times:
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...That's the way paragraphs 3-5 of Rich's report appeared in the hard-copy Times. To peruse the current on-line version of the report, you can just click here.
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.
This morning, we finally saw that the Times has amended the highlighted passage. As part of a formal correction, it removed the reference to Menlo Park, a suburban community very few readers would have known much about.
We've spent a lot of time trying to understand the original claim about Menlo Park. The problem was made more difficult because, for whatever reason, the Menlo Park City School District isn't included in the Times' first interactive graphic, in which basic data are presented about the nation's school systems.
We don't know why Menlo Park is absent from the voluminous data included in that first graphic. But just today, we noted that the Times has posted this correction on line:
Correction: May 3, 2016Aside from the statement that it was all Stanford's fault, we have no clear idea what that correction means. At any rate, the early passage citing Atlanta now says this on-line:
An earlier version of this article, using information from Stanford, misstated gaps in Menlo Park, Calif. and Tredyffrin-Easttown, Pa. Charter schools in those areas are located outside of the district or online, not in those communities.
RICH: 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.Atlanta "has a high level of segregation in the public schools," we are told. We aren't told exactly what that means, but that seems to represent some sort of explanation for Atlanta's large black-white achievement gap.
To what kind of "segregation" is Rich referring? Inquiring minds don't need to inquire, wonder or know. Even at that early point in this multiply-bungled report, Times readers were already basically swimming in narrative.
Does Atlanta have a high level of "segregation" in its public schools? Depending on what that term is intended to mean, we will assume that it does.
That said, it has also has a giant socioeconomic gap between its black kids and its white kids, a point Rich failed to mention. A cynic, one given to overstatement, would quickly say that this omission was part of the master plan.
How large is the gap in SES between those two groups of kids? If you go to the Times' second interactive graphic, you can gaze on the gap for yourselves.
(Click here, scroll down to the second graphic.)
The pink dot representing Atlanta's white kids will be easily found in the upper right-hand corner of the graphic. (That's the corner representing high academic achievement and high SES.)
Once your cursor lands on that dot, your eye will be directed to the larger green dot representing Atlanta's black kids. That green dot is way over on the left side of the graphic, over on the less advantaged side of the socioeconomic scale. In fact, a little noodling around with your cursor will quickly show you this:
Atlanta's gap in black-white SES seems to be the largest such gap on the Times' whole graphic. Washington, D.C. comes close.
Rich didn't mention that punishing gap in students' SES. She mentioned only the "segregation," which she didn't bother to define or explain.
In such ways, your understanding of the world was being sifted by Rich. This sort of thing is rather common when the Times discusses, or pretends to discuss, the interests and lives of low-income kids.
We're not saying that Rich was sifting your access to facts in a deliberate way. We're saying that the Times relentlessly disappears some facts, and advances others, when it discusses, or pretends to discuss, the nation's public schools.
The New York Times seems to do this in fealty to preferred narratives. Any claim about motive is speculation, of course—but the sifting of facts is quite real.
What exactly did Rich mean in her reference to "segregation?" In rather typical fashion, she and her editors never tried to explain.
Presumably, they may have meant that Atlanta's white kids in grades 3-8 attend schools whose students are predominantly white. This may be a significant fact, a point we'll discuss next week.
That said, it's also true that Atlanta's white students are living in a different universe from their black peers, at least according to Reardon's measure of SES. And by the way, let's say it again:
Reardon's measure of SES isn't a measure of income alone, although Rich and her editors constantly disappear its non-economic, cultural aspects.
Did they do so in fealty to narrative? We'll report, you can explain.
Reardon's measure of SES doesn't rank students on a scale which runs from "poorer" to "richer," though that's the simple-minded, erroneous way the Times presents that scale on its second graphic. In truth, the New York Times just isn't real sharp—and it runs largely on narrative.
What explains the very large achievement gap in Atlanta? Within the American context, that gap is pretty much what you'd expect, given the very large SES gap between those two groups of kids.
Along with that large gap in SES, Atlanta's school may also feature a high level of "segregation." We'd like to see more information about what that statement means.
But just for the record, there's only so much ameliorative "integration" Atlanta's public schools could provide, given current enrollment figures. All grades included, these are the current enrollment figures for those two groups of kids:
Total enrollment, Atlanta Public SchoolsClick here, then continue to click.
Black kids: 38,287
White kids: 7,723
It's widely believed that lower-income kids gain academically from attending school with middle- and upper-income kids. Next week, we'll discuss the parts of Rich's report where she alludes to this belief. They may be the only instructive parts of her report.
That said, there's only so much amelioration of that type the Atlanta schools could currently provide on their own. Rich was beating a pleasing old drum, but it mainly was done to make readers feel good, not because Atlanta's schools can provide much relief of the kind she may have in mind.
Atlanta's black-white achievement gap represents a terrible state of affairs. It's a marker of our brutal history. It's a marker of our failure to date to address some of its punishing legacies.
That said, the New York Times rarely betrays any real interest in addressing these questions, aside from its desire to churn a set of pleasing, favored themes on an occasional basis.
Next week, we'll continue to look at Rich's report in our afternoon posts. Tredyffrin-Easttown notwithstanding, Professor Reardon's study presents a fascinating array of data. We can probably learn a great deal from the information it contains.
In a somewhat similar way, Rich's report in the New York Times contains a fascinating array of misstatements and omissions in apparent service to preferred narratives. Low-income children are poorly served by this familiar, uncaring approach.
Luckily, no one in our modern elites actually cares about any of this! In our view, that fact is as plain as the big red nose on the typical cable star's face.