Perusing the Times' fine print: On Friday, August 25, the New York Times published its annual back-to-school pseudo-report.
The newspaper does this every year. This lets subscribers think that the New York Times, and they themselves, actually care about our public schools and the various children within them.
We'll admit that we're skeptics on such points. At any rate, we thought we'd offer more background this week on that Times report.
The report, an analysis piece, topped the Times' front page on that Friday morning. In this age of elite "education reform," its basic conclusion was suitably gloomy:
In spite of affirmative action efforts, blacks and Hispanics are still "under-represented" in the nation's most selective colleges. In fact, they're more under-represented than they were in 1980, the New York Times judged in this report, we'll guess incorrectly.
As the week proceeds, we want to give you some of the important background which the Times sped by. In particular, we plan to look at achievement levels in California among the demographic groups the Times report discussed.
For today, we thought we'd show you the fine print which accompanied the Times report. How did the New York Times accumulate the reams of data which comprised the bulk of this useless report? In tiny, small print which was barely legible in hard copy, the newspaper told us this:
Notes: Data in charts are for undergraduates enrolled in the fall for the first time at four-year universities that grant degrees. From 1980 to 1993, data for students whose race or ethnicity was unknown has been redistributed across other groups.Do you understand what those various statements mean? Let's hopscotch around a bit:
Students whose race is unknown and international students are excluded from totals. The multiracial category, which was introduced in 2008, and the Native American category are shown when either group is ever above 5 percent of total enrollment.
Enrollment for each racial and ethnic group is reported by the schools, and may be incorrect or not add up to 100 percent. Years in which the total of the groups enrolled was less than 90 percent or more than 110 percent are excluded from the charts. Years in which any single group exceeded 100 percent are also excluded.
Population data for 1990 to 2015 are for 18-year-olds. Population data for 1980 is for 17- to 21-year-olds with high school degrees. The population and enrollment data do not consistently count multiracial or Native American students. To account for this, the percentages on the gap charts use only Asian, black, Hispanic and white counts in the denominator.
"Enrollment for each racial and ethnic group is reported by the schools, and may be incorrect."
That doesn't sound encouraging! Indeed, the data are sometimes so incorrect that, in some cases, schools reported that some demographic group exceeded 100 percent of the student population!
You needn't worry about that, though. If the various groups at some school added up to more than 110%, the New York Times threw those data away!
"The multiracial category...was introduced in 2008."
Since the Times was comparing student enrollment in 1980 to student enrollment in 2015, this would seem to make a large difference. At some schools, the multiracial student population was fairly high in 2015. (Harvey Mudd College 14%; Stanford 11%; UCSB 10%; Brown 9%.) How would those kids have been recorded in earlier years? How do you compare enrollment figures from 2015 to enrollment figures from earlier years, when there was no way to record a student as being multiracial?
If you can figure that out from that fine print, you're better readers than we are. Then too, consider this:
While some schools reported that 8-14% of their students were multiracial in 2015, quite a few schools reported that none of their students were multiracial. Presumably, that's what the Times was referring to when it wrote this:
"The population and enrollment data do not consistently count multiracial or Native American students. To account for this, the percentages on the gap charts use only Asian, black, Hispanic and white counts in the denominator."
Frankly, we have no idea what that means. But that doesn't fill us with confidence in the overall figures the Times reported.
"The multiracial category, which was introduced in 2008, and the Native American category are shown when either group is ever above 5 percent of total enrollment."
Do you have any idea what that means? We were finally able to figure it out from fiddling around with the graphics in the on-line version of the Times report. If we'd been restricted to the hard-copy report, there would have been no obvious way to figure it out.
"From 1980 to 1993, data for students whose race or ethnicity was unknown has been redistributed across other groups."
Do you feel you understand what that means? Frankly, we do not.
The New York Times is a very famous brand. The paper markets itself as very intelligent and very concerned. Our experience of its work suggests a different set of conclusions, especially in the area of public education.
True believing liberals may be inclined to assume 1) that the New York Times must have known what it was doing when it assembled the data for this report, and 2) that the New York Times was sincerely trying to puzzle out an important matter.
Based upon our years of experience, we strongly doubt the New York Times' basic competence, and we especially doubt the paper's basic sincerity. In our experience, the Times seems to bungle its back to school pseudo-report every single year. Meanwhile, we've never seen the slightest sign that the New York Times, as an institution, has any real concern about the lives, experiences or interests of the nation's low-income kids, aside from the need for periodic marketing of the newspaper's all-important brand.
That said, this year's report dealt with the numbers of black and Hispanic students enrolled in the nation's most competitive colleges. Tomorrow, we'll focus on the state of California, offering some of the background the New York Times sped by.
This Times report dealt with very important topics. In our experience, the New York Times is incapable of creating a serious report on any such topic.
The New York Times doesn't seem to care about topics like this, and the paper tends to be grossly incompetent. We realize that these judgments may seem counter-intuitive. Just a guess:
That's a reflection of the power of the New York Times' famous brand.
Tomorrow: What the Times wrote about enrollment figures on the campuses of the University of California