No education reporter need apply: To what extent are black kids and Hispanic kids "under-represented" in the nation's most highly-regarded colleges?
It isn't the most important educational question. Most college students don't attend the 100 colleges on which the Times reported last week, and most young people of college age don't attend a four-year college at all.
Beyond that, the Times report turns on a somewhat slippery concept—the concept of "under-representation." Absent careful explication, that concept can end up producing much more heat than light.
That said, all such questions about American kids are important. That's why it's surprising, yet not surprising, to see the way the New York Times presented this topic last week.
Last Friday, a highly unusual report on this topic topped the front page of the hard-copy Times. According to a note on Friday's page A3, it had been the Times' most-emailed article the previous day, when it appeared on-line.
What was the central claim of the Times report? In hard copy, the report ran under the following headlines, and featured the following bylines:
Affirmative Action Yields Little Progress on Campus For Blacks and HispanicsThose headlines sounded suitably gloomy. For today, let's focus on the bylines, which had us slightly puzzled.
After 35 Years, Racial Gaps Widen at 100 U.S. Colleges, an Analysis Shows
This article is by Jeremy Ashkenas, Haeyoun Park and Adam Pearce
Why were we puzzled by those bylines? Because we didn't recall ever having seen those names before! Indeed, when we checked them out, we found that none of three credited writers is an education reporter.
All three are listed by the Times as "graphics editors." It's a job at which all three are experienced, and at which all three may be superbly skilled.
That said, it seemed, and seems, a bit odd to us to run a sprawling front-page report of this type without employing the services of an actual education reporter. This may explain the peculiar lay-out of this report. To wit:
According to Nexis, the entire front-page report ran only 308 words. And that constitutes the full front-page report. The report is not continued inside the paper in any normal sense.
The bulk of three editors' work appeared inside the paper, covering the whole of page A15. For the most part, it took the form of a hundred graphics showing the student demographics, down through the years, at the hundred colleges on which the Times is reporting.
Let's say it again: Ashkenas, Park and Pearce may all be superb at graphics. (Having said that, let's also say this: many of the graphics are fully legible and informative on-line, but they were virtually impossible to read in the Times' hard-copy editions.)
Ashkenas, Park and Pearce may all be superb as graphics editors. That said, this report touches on a wide array of important topics about public education, and we'd say this report showed little skill, or even interest, when it came to exploring those areas.
Indeed, the basic statistical framework on which the report is based makes little sense to us. In effect, this sprawling, heavily-emailed effort might be excellent as an appendix to a real report on the matters at hand. But that real report never seemed to materialize.
Over the years, the New York Times has persistently done a woeful job with its basic education reporting. This puzzling effort seems to continue an unfortunate family tradition.
Does the basic framework here even make sense? Tomorrow, we'll take a look at this report's basic statistical framework.
For our previous report on this front-page report, you can just click here. You'll read about this nowhere else. As you know, nobody cares.