Fails to pursue basic questions: Yesterday was a very rare day at the New York Times’ Sunday Review.
Don’t misunderstand! The section featured its usual frippery from Maureen Dowd. In her column, Dowd was concerned about the insults the dumbasses dish at each other on Comedy Central’s roasts.
(Can we talk? They do this to garner minimal ratings from the rest of nation’s dumbasses.)
We’ll put Dowd alongside Ta-Nehisi Coates, who is concerned about the insulting things NFL players say to each other, in a situation where it’s very hard to know what’s going on.
Dowd is concerned about Sarah Silverman. Coates is concerned about Jonathan Martin. Meanwhile, in a stunning development, Nicholas Kristof was concerned about tens of millions of low-income kids! On page one of the Sunday Review!
Repeat: he was concerned about low-income kids! No NFL millionaires or cable stars seemed to be involved!
Warning! Kristof is too inclined to believe the things he’s told by the “education experts.” In her new book, Reign of Error, Diane Ravitch tackles one of Kristof’s long-running themes about low-income schools, without naming Kristof himself.
We’ve wondered about the point in question for years. We look forward to covering that material in the next few weeks.
Kristof tends to be a bit credulous, possibly somewhat lazy. That said, his front-page piece concerned itself with millions of actual kids who live in the real world.
Kristof started like this, writing from deepest red Tulsa:
KRISTOF (11/11/13): Liberals don’t expect Oklahoma to serve as a model of social policy. But, astonishingly, we can see in this reddest of red states a terrific example of what the United States can achieve in early education.How do our nation’s “achievement gaps” get so large? How do so many low-income kids get so far behind?
Every 4-year-old in Oklahoma gets free access to a year of high-quality prekindergarten. Even younger children from disadvantaged homes often get access to full-day, year-round nursery school, and some families get home visits to coach parents on reading and talking more to their children.
The aim is to break the cycle of poverty, which is about so much more than a lack of money. Take two girls, ages 3 and 4, I met here in one Tulsa school. Their great-grandmother had her first child at 13. The grandmother had her first at 15. The mom had her first by 13, born with drugs in his system, and she now has four children by three fathers.
But these two girls, thriving in a preschool, may break that cycle. Their stepgreat-grandmother, Patricia Ann Gaines, is raising them and getting coaching from the school on how to read to them frequently, and she is determined to see them reach the middle class.
In his column, Kristof describes the process as it’s commonly understood. He’s even willing to discuss the way children are raised in their homes:
KRISTOF: Research suggests that high-poverty parents, some of them stressed-out kids themselves, don’t always “attach” to their children or read or speak to them frequently. One well-known study found that a child of professionals hears 30 million more words by the age of 4 than a child on welfare.White liberals won’t talk about this—too scary! It sounds so racist, to discuss the way low-income parents may interact with their kids!
So the idea is that even the poorest child in Oklahoma should have access to the kind of nurturing that is routine in middle-class homes. That way, impoverished children don’t begin elementary school far behind the starting line—and then give up.
President Obama called in his State of the Union address this year for a nationwide early education program like this, for mountains of research suggests that early childhood initiatives are the best way to chip away at inequality and reduce the toll of crime, drugs and educational failure.
At Salon, someone might drop an R-bomb on our precious little heads! Our solution? We ignore low-income kids altogether! We focus on piddle instead!
That said, how well are Oklahoma’s programs actually working? “Teachers, administrators and outside evaluators agree that students who go through the preschool program end up about half a year ahead of where they would be otherwise,” Kristof writes in his piece.
As noted, Kristof is inclined to put too much faith in the things such people tell him. Did he examine basic NAEP scores before deciding to believe the various things he was told?
According to Kristof, Oklahoma passed a law in 1998 providing free access to prekindergarten for all 4-year-olds. The state also “provides more limited support for needy children 3 and under.” Those sound like good things to do.
That said, here’s the problem:
When it comes to basic skills, Oklahoma is a very low-performing state. And not only that! On this year’s NAEP, its relative standing is far below where it was in 1998.
On the NAEP, its white, black and Hispanic kids all scored near the bottom of the nation in reading and math this year, at Grade 4 and Grade 8. Next door, Texas kids scored very high. Oklahoma kids scored near the bottom.
We checked the state’s progress since 1998, when the preschool program went into effect. Since that year, Oklahoma’s black kids have lost large amounts of ground in reading and math, Grade 4 and Grade 8, when compared to the rest of the nation’s black kids. White kids in Oklahoma have lost a lot of ground too.
(It’s amazingly easy to check these facts; for all NAEP scores, start here. Among the nation’s “journalists,” this sort of thing isn’t done.)
Judging from our most reliable testing data, something hasn’t been working in Oklahoma. The preschool programs may be fine. If so, something seems to be misfiring somewhere else.
In his column, there is no sign that Kristof fact-checked any of this or asked anyone about it. Kristof tends to do things this way.
Noble intentions to the side, he gets a failing grade too.