Except perhaps maybe as click-bait: What explains our very large "racial"/ethnic achievement gaps? We refer to the types of gaps which obtained on the 2012 PISA, which tested 15-year-old students:
Average scores, Reading Literacy, 2012 PISAAccording to PISA-connected Amanda Ripley, 39 points on the PISA scale is considered to be the rough equivalent of one academic year.
United States, Asian-American students: 550
South Korea: 536
United States, white students: 519
United States: 498
United States, Hispanic students: 478
United States, black students: 443
Applying that very rough rule of thumb, white kids in the U.S. basically matched miraculous Finland—not that you'd ever learn such a thing in the mainstream press. On average, black kids in the U.S. would have been several years behind. Asian-American kids outscored all the world's public school superpowers.
The gaps seem to be larger on some tests. What explains these gaps? How can we confront them?
During our recent series, Where the Test Scores Are, we said that different people are inclined to answer those questions in different ways. We also mentioned the fact that no one actually cares.
What did we mean by that last award-winning comment? Consider the two paragraphs Slate devoted to public school issues today. The two grafs were written by Marissa Martinelli, who seems to be straight out of college, as is completely appropriate.
This was her entire piece, except for the tape of John Oliver:
MARTINELLI (10/31/16): Though the Civil Rights Act of 1964 invalidated laws that kept black and white students in separate schools, racial segregation in America’s school systems is still very much alive and well. John Oliver kicked off his Last Week Tonight segment on the subject with an admonishment for his more liberal white viewers, who might think the issue only applies south of the Mason-Dixon: “If you’re in a city like New York, you’re probably thinking, ‘Oh, splendid, I know where this is going: a story vilifying the backwards and racist American South. Let me just grab a handful of kale chips that I can munch on while feeling superior.’ ”That was the entire piece, except for the tape of Oliver.
Not so fast, Oliver warns, because the New York school system is actually by some measures the most segregated in America, especially because of schools in New York City, where discriminatory housing policies and selective admissions processes have kept black and Latino students separate from their white counterparts. And since funding tends to follow white people “the way white people follow the band Phish,” this hurts minority students—just as, Oliver argues, it hurts white students, too.
Does John Oliver know what he's talking about? How about Martinelli? Is it possible that Oliver is just munching a handful of chips while possibly feeling superior?
We'll guess that, on balance, the answers are probably no and maybe possibly yes.
It isn't that professors haven't encouraged us to feel superior while repeating talking points about "segregation" in New York City schools. And it isn't that the New York Times hasn't chipped in this year with several heartfelt but puzzling, kale chip-inflected pieces on this topic.
Here's the problem. The iconic study to which these pieces refer comes from UCLA. Are discriminatory housing policies and selective admissions processes keeping black and Latino students separate from their white counterparts in the New York City schools?
We're not even saying the answer is no. But for starters, consider what one of the New York Times reports said about Gotham's student population:
HANNAH-JONES (6/12/16): The New York City public-school system is 41 percent Latino, 27 percent black and 16 percent Asian. Three-quarters of all students are low-income. In 2014, the Civil Rights Project at the University of California, Los Angeles, released a report showing that New York City public schools are among the most segregated in the country. Black and Latino children here have become increasingly isolated, with 85 percent of black students and 75 percent of Latino students attending ''intensely'' segregated schools—schools that are less than 10 percent white.In New York City, are 85 percent of black students attending schools that are less than 10 percent white? In that sense, are they "increasingly isolated?"
Let's assume they are! That said, the student population in New York City is less than 15 percent white overall!
New York City's public schools don't have a profusion of white kids. Here's part of what that iconic report said about Gotham's schools:
ICONIC UCLA STUDY (2014): Across the 32 Community School Districts (CSDs) in New York City, 19 had 10% or less white students in 2010, which included all districts in the Bronx, two-thirds of the districts in Brooklyn (central to north districts), half of the districts in Manhattan (northern districts), and only two-fifths of the districts in Queens (southeast districts).All districts in the Bronx had ten percent or fewer white students. If you had distributed all the white kids in those districts (or in that borough) in a perfectly even fashion, all black and Hispanic students would have been attending "intensely segregated schools!"
When we say that nobody cares, we're thinking of peculiar academic reports like this, and of the people who recite their puzzling frameworks and conclusions without so much as blinking an eye. We also think of mags like Slate, which give young people two paragraphs on this topic, but mainly so they can link to John Oliver, who may not know what he's talking about. (We didn't watch his tape.)
People don't care about low-income kids! Editors do care about clicks, and we humans do like to feel superior. In our view, all three facts are made quite clear day after day after day.