Part 3—The size of the gaps inside Gotham: What will happen at School 54 if the plan goes into effect? Quickly, let's review:
The plan to which we refer is the proposed "desegregation plan" for middle schools in Manhattan's District 3, one of the 34 districts which constitute New York City's humongous public school system.
(Over one million students!)
School 54 is one of District's 3's "sought-after" middle schools. Last September, at least 88 percent of its incoming sixth-graders had passed the state of New York's fifth-grade math exam.
If the proposed desegregation plan is adopted, School 54 will be required to set aside 25 percent of its sixth-grade seats for kids who didn't pass the fifth-grade state exams. This would lead to greater racial mingling, at least in the school's highly sought-after lunchroom. But how would the plan affect academics, let's say in reading and math?
How would the plan affect academics? So far, we've heard two ideas:
In Elizabeth Harris's news report about the proposal, a grandparent named Irene Butler said the plan might lead to higher achievement for some affected kids. Kids who failed the state exam might do better at the "higher-performing" School 54, as opposed to at West Prep Academy, the lower-performing school two blocks away where she said, no doubt correctly, they some kids are "struggling."
This notion isn't crazy! (We'll examine it further tomorrow.) For today, let's focus on a second idea which isn't crazy. Let's consider something a gloomier parent said.
Truly, it's always somethin'! According to Harris, the gloomier parent said this:
HARRIS (5/2/18): [Some people] have questioned how the schools will adapt their teaching to meet the needs of students who come in at such different [academic] levels.In a slightly better world, Kross would have said "achievement levels" rather than "abilities." But Kross is asking a sensible question, though she seems to have an unlikely picture in her head.
Deborah Kross, who lives on 118th Street and is white, has three children at District 3 public schools, including one at School 54. She shares some of those concerns. “A question I’ve asked twice in these meetings is, ‘What’s the plan for middle schools to bring together in the same classroom people with the very broad abilities?’ And there’s no response to that,” she said.
If School 54 ends up enrolling kids with a wider range of achievement levels, will these widely-varying kids end up "in the same classroom?" We'll guess that they would not.
We'll guess that the kids who got 4's on the math exam—the highest possible score—would typically be assigned to "accelerated" math classes. We'll guess that the kids who got 1's—the lowest possible score—would typically be assigned to some sort of (hopefully challenging) "remedial" math class.
This would, of course, tend to recreate the "racial segregation," relocating it within the classrooms of School 54. As liberals, we all know that we must denounce such an obvious evil.
But liberals, the river is very wide, and the river is hard to get over.
At present, School 54 is full of kids who got passing grades—3's and 4's—on the fifth-grade math exam. Within the context of New York City, how elite is this group?
Not all that super-elite! According to explosive official records, 41% of New York City fifth-graders scored 3 or 4 on the test in question. As kids who passed the test could tell you, this means that 59% of Gotham's fifth-graders got a 1 or a 2 on the test:
Scores on Grade 5 math examThis, of course, doesn't tell us how wide the achievement gaps may be between these groups of kids.
New York City, 2017
4: 16.5 percent
3: 24.3 percent
2: 24.5 percent
1: 34.7 percent
For better or worse, the gaps seem to be quite large. Consider the scores New York City kids produced on that same year's Naep, the widely-praised "gold standard" of domestic educational testing.
The Naep tests kids in Grade 4 and Grade 8. For that very reason, we can't show you results from Grade 5.
That said, the results from Grade 4 seem to tell a familiar story, a story our experts tend to avoid as they sleep their way through life. Judging from results on the Naep, achievement gaps within Gotham seem to be very large:
Average scores by percentiles, 2017 NaepGood grief! Fourth-graders who scored at the 90th percentile outscored their 10th-percentile peers by more than 80 points!
Grade 4 math, New York City Public Schools
90th percentile: 269.09
75th percentile: 251.60
50th percentile: 230.43
25th percentile: 207.50
10th percentile: 186.80
At such times, very rough rules of thumb may start breaking down on the Naep. But according to one familiar rule of thumb, that gap would mean that the higher-scorers are "ahead" of their lower-scoring peers by roughly eight academic years! At the end of fourth grade!
That doesn't exactly make sense. But even at the intermediate 25th and 75th percentiles, the river seems quite wide. Just as a frame of references, this is the way the numbers looked among New York City's eighth-graders:
Average scores by percentiles, 2017 NaepThe rivers seem to be wide.
Grade 8 math, New York City Public Schools
90th percentile: 329.72
75th percentile: 303.23
50th percentile: 272.76
25th percentile: 245.27
10th percentile: 222.66
Based upon these data, our gloomier parent seemed to have a germ of a point. Almost surely, District 3's proposed plan would introduce larger "achievement gaps" to the hallowed halls of "sought-after" School 54.
That doesn't mean that the school's teachers would be wrestling with these achievement gaps within individual classrooms. Presumably, the kids who aced the state math exam with scores of 4 wouldn't be in the same math class with the "struggling" kids who got 1's.
Deborah Kross has a germ of a point. That said, her specific fear—the indiscriminate mixing of 1's with 4's—is likely unfounded.
On the other hand, our more sanguine grandparent may be brought back down to earth by this rumination. Here is the unfortunate question a skeptical person must ask:
What makes her think that teachers at School 54 are better at teaching remedial math than the teachers at West Prep, two blocks away? Also, sadly, this:
Is she sure that the teachers at School 54 might not look down on her grandson—on the kid who is struggling with math? Is it possible that the teachers at West Prep might be more likely to see him for the decent kid he is?
Would lower-achieving kids end up doing better in math if they went to School 54? Tomorrow, we'll discuss that possibility in a bit more detail.
Having said that, let us also say this once again. It's a very important point:
People! Most struggling, lower-achieving kids don't have a nearby School 54! If we're going to help those kids succeed, we won't be able to help them succeed through s magical transfer to a sought-after, higher-performing school!
We'll have to figure out ways to make the West Prep Academies work. Luckily, you're never asked to think about this by Rachel, Lawrence or Chris.
They don't care about struggling kids like Irene Butler's grandson. On their entertaining cable programs, struggling kids in New York or Detroit aren't mentioned, don't matter, don't count.
You won't be shown the size of the gaps. You won't be asked how to address them.
Tomorrow: "Integration" in Chicago—and what de Blasio said
Location of Naep data: The federal government provides mountains of data from the Naep. Unfortunately, there is no way to make upper-end journalists access or discuss them.
For all Naep data, just start here, with The Naep Data Explorer. From there, you're on your own. Scores achieved at different percentiles can be accessed under the STATISTIC heading.
Tons of information are available at that site. It's just that no one ever goes there, mainly because, as is perfectly obvious, nobody actually cares and no one ever has.