Part 5—Please disregard the gaps: For the past two weeks, we've been discussing a New York Times news report about the Chicago Public Schools.
We thought the report was deeply flawed. That said, neither reporter was an education specialist; the New York Times doesn't develop or hire such people. Beyond that, the flawed report was flawed in traditional happy-talk ways. It featured the approach our big newspapers have long brought to the lives of the nation's black kids.
Our first reaction to the report went something like this:
First, we pondered its basic claim, which said the average eighth-grader in Chicago has gained six years of academic learning over the previous five years.
Then, we looked at Naep results, according to which the average black eighth grader in Chicago was at least three years behind the nation's white kids in math at the end of last year. After gaining six academic years, they were still three years behind.
After gaining six years of math, they were still three years behind? All told, these claims would imply that the average black kid in Chicago was something like four years behind in math at the end of third grade! These are the ways arcane formulations crawl into the bushes to die.
The Times report suffered from a very basic flaw. It didn't present our most straightforward data about Chicago's kids, the data from the biannual Naep testing.
Alas! Within the upper-end press, a basic tenet of Hard Pundit Law obtains. Everybody praises the Nsep, but no one reports its data!
Those basic data can be embarrassing and depressing, and so newspapers like the Times and the Washington Post tend to "walk on by." For the last and final time, we're going to post the data which didn't appear in the New York Times during its happy talk about Chicago:
Average scores, Grade 8 mathOof! Data like those don't make upscale readers feel good, and so they rarely appear. Instead, we see photographs of adorable little girls smiling big smiles in the face of the problem the New York Times tends to evade.
Black students in Chicago: 259.45
White students in Chicago: 305.81
White students nationwide: 292.16
Asian-American students nationwide: 309.52
Those Times reporters weren't specialists. We'll guess it never occurred to them to look at the most recent Naep scores to get a basic idea of where matters currently stand in Chicago's improving schools.
That said, it's long been true. The lives of black kids get major short shrift in the upper-end mainstream press and in the liberal world. Education reporting is often a joke, as is liberal activism. Consider the news report which appeared in yesterday's New York Times.
Once again, for perhaps the ten millionth time, the Times was reporting on a "desegregation" plan for the middle schools of New York City's District 3, a section of the public school system located in parts of Manhattan.
Is this proposed plan a good idea? That's a matter of judgment. For the record, there's only so much "desegregation" you can achieve in a system whose student population is only 15% white.
But "desegregation" and "diversity" are major gods at the New York Times. They're also gods for liberal happy-talk do-gooders, for people who rarely seem to grasp the size of the problem we all quite happily live with.
The New York Times' Winnie Hu isn't an education specialist. Obviously, that isn't her fault, and she was reporting on a plan which, whatever its merits may be, is drowning in gimmickry and euphemism.
None of that is Hu's fault. That said, her report appeared benath a somehwat comical headline, and she put her thumb on the scale right in her opening sentence.
Hu's report began this way, puzzling headline included:
HU (6/7/18): Low Scores Would Earn Admission to Select Middle Schools in Desegregation PlanSay what? According to that headline, low test scores would "earn admission" to Gotham's select middle schools? Granting admission on the basis of low test scores is part of "desegregation?"
Students with low test scores are usually shut out of New York City’s best public schools.
But next year, such students could be offered a quarter of the sixth-grade seats at even the most selective middle schools in Manhattan’s District 3 as part of a desegregation plan being debated in the district, which stretches from the Upper West Side to Harlem.
That headline walked a hall of mirrors—and Hu instantly put her thumb on the scales. District 3's "most selective middle schools" are among the city's "best" schools, she instantly said, making a familiar conflation which can impose a world of hurt.
Just for once, let's be clear. Those admission-based schools are among the city's highest-scoring schools, but that's because their high-scoring students were high-scoring coming in.
Teachers at those selective schools don't possess some sort of magic which can make all other kids high-scoring too. There's no guarantee that they'll know how to help the city's lowest-achieving kids. Indeed, there's no guarantee that they won't resent the presence of the new low-scoring kids, won't view them with annoyance and contempt.
Within Hu's report, you'll quickly encounter the type of liberal do-gooders who perhaps rarely know what they're talking about. They assume that going to the "best" schools will help the city's lowest-achieving kids.
We know of no reason to make that assumption. And of course, the gaps are extremely wide:
Average scores, Grade 8 math, NaepThose data didn't appear in Hu's report. Because those data didn't appear, there was no need to explain, with rough rules of thumb, how wide those gaps really are.
New York City, 2017
White students: 290.71
Black students: 255.63
Hispanic students: 263.56
Asian-American students: 306.03
If New York's lowest-achieving kids are admitted to its "most selective schools," will the teachers at those schools respect those low-achievers? If they do respect those struggling kids, will they magically know what to do to help them across those enormous gaps?
The Times doesn't ask its upscale readers to wonder about such things. Instead, the Times sends its mandated signals about racist white parents and acts like all will be well.
It's hard to have sufficient contempt for the way this journalistic/activist system works. We think of the contempt expressed by Willa Cather's protagonist in My Antonia, Book II, Chapter IX—his contempt for the weak-spirited Anglo boys who refuse to act on their attraction to the vibrant beauty of the immigrant girls.
We also think of Wilfred Owen, trudging behind the dying and the dead during the Great War:
If in some smothering dreams, you too could paceIn truth, a lot of "old lies" exist in the world, told by those ardent for desperate glory, perhaps of the pseudolib kind.
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,—
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.
It's hard to have sufficient contempt for those self-assured do-gooders who are able to love their gods so much because the Hamptons-based newspaper they consume refuses to show them the truth.
The Times doesn't bother with public school specialists, or with gruesome test score data. Dearest darlings! Use your heads!
Use your heads! Who cares?