Our month of the gaps to continue next week!

SATURDAY, MAY 31, 2014

In a nutshell, here’s why: Next week, “Our month of the gaps” will continue. Here’s why:

In the course of creating her 10,000-word report for The Atlantic, Nikole Hannah-Jones stumbled upon a deeply unfortunate world.

She describes a public high school—Tuscaloosa’s Central High—where even the brightest seniors can’t seem to qualify for college. Her reaction?

Students at this all-black school need to attend school with more white kids! Hannah-Jones is principally concerned with their “segregation.”

On balance, we’d like to see superlative kids like D’Leisha Dent in mixed-race school settings too. But that is not the primary problem that fine young person is facing.

The Central High of Hannah-Jones’ description is a remarkable place—a place where even the brightest seniors can’t qualify for college. There’s little reason to suppose that the situation would be massively different if those same kids had gone to school with a handful of white kids—and that’s the best Tuscaloosa could have done, given its demographics.

We think Hannah-Jones’ focus is heinous, uncaring, cruel. We think the same of Professor Perry’s ridiculous presentation about the Brown decision, in which she gasped at the fact that black kids are “disproportionately” represented in gifted and talented programs.

Earth to this heinous Princeton professor, who attended nothing but private schools:

By any normal academic standard, superlative kids like D'Leisha Dent don’t qualify for gifted programs! To judge from Hannah-Jones’ sketchy report, Dent is in an AP English class for one reason only—because the other kids at Central High perform even more poorly than she does.

D’Leisha Dent seems to a truly superb young person. Why isn’t she doing better in school? Why doesn’t she qualify for the four-year colleges she very much wants to attend?

Our journalists and academics spill over with throwback explanations and frameworks. In these presentations, an older generation refuses to abandon its generational themes and see to the needs of the young.

Starting on Monday, we’ll examine the size of the achievement gaps which define our public schools and our student population.

We won’t restrict ourselves to the gap between “the rich and the poor,” as Eduardo Porter ever-so-safely did in the New York Times last week. We’ll also look at the very large gaps which obtain between our white kids and our black kids.

We’ll marvel at the very large size of those appalling gaps.

Those gaps reflect our brutal history, a history no living person created. That said, we can’t address those daunting gaps by pretending that they don’t exist—by feigning surprise at the disproportionate representation of black kids in “gifted” programs.

Professor Perry should be ashamed of the very bad work she has done. In our view, she and the rest of her crappy elite don’t seem to care about Dent very much.

Same as it ever was! Overpaid, worthless elites of all “races” are walking away from our truly superlative black kids.

In the next month, we’ll discuss the size and genesis of the gaps our swells prefer to avoid. Life at Princeton can be sweet. But that doesn’t do a whole lot for Dent, a truly superlative kid.

AVOIDING THE GAPS: A mockingbird down!

FRIDAY, MAY 30, 2014

Part 4—Watching the gaps get suppressed: It’s a sin to kill a mockingbird. Gregory Peck said that.

Something else is sinful too. It’s a sin when our journalists fail to report—refuse to report—our black kids’ substantial score gains.

Singing sweetly, the nation’s reporters and pundits routinely repeat elite propaganda about stagnant test scores in our allegedly failing schools. But how odd:

As pundits have done this in recent decades, black kids’ test scores in reading and math have risen rather sharply. These test scores come from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (the NAEP), the federal program which is routinely called the gold standard of domestic educational testing:
Average scores, black students, public schools
Grade 8 math, NAEP

2013: 262.73
1996: 239.28
What sort of academic progress is indicated by a score gain of that size? According to a very rough rule of thumb, ten points on the NAEP scale is often compared to one academic year.

For more detail, see yesterday’s report.

The average score of black eighth-graders has risen by more than 23 points! Does that mean that these kids are two years ahead of their peers from the mid-1990s?

To us, that seems unlikely. That said, we haven’t seen the press corps analyze, debate or discuss that very important question.

We haven’t seen interviews with officials from the National Center for Education Statistics about that important question. That’s because the press corps has refused to report or discuss these large score gains in any way at all!

It’s a sin to withhold that information—to rob the public of the chance to admire the progress being recorded by the nation’s black kids. That said, black kids are also poorly served when our journalists, advocates and professors refuse to discuss the size of the nation’s large gaps.

The gains are important, but so are the gaps! And the achievement gaps remain quite large in our public schools, a fact we’ll explore all next week.

If black kids have recorded large gains, why do the gaps remain large? Simple! White kids have been recording substantial score gains too—and so have Hispanic kids. As we noted yesterday, Richard Rothstein explained this bone-simple fact in his piece for Slate:
ROTHSTEIN (8/29/11): Though you would never know it from the state of public alarm about education, the numbers show that regular public school performance has skyrocketed in the last two decades to the point that, for example, black elementary school students now have better math skills than whites had only 20 years ago...The reason test score gaps have barely narrowed is that white students have also improved, at least at the elementary and middle school levels.
It’s a sin to withhold such information, about the gains and the gaps. But our press corps relentlessly does so, even as it hails the NAEP as “the nation’s report card.”

In fairness, the mainstream press corps does tend to report the gaps, although it does so fleetingly. Meanwhile, it thoroughly disappears the gains. This creates a vast misconception about the state of our schools.

That said, some journalists have made it their business in recent weeks to avoid the gaps. Almost all our journalists hide the gains. These others are hiding the gaps.

We’d call their conduct a bit sinful too. Let’s start with the New York Times’ Eduardo Porter.

In last week’s Economic Scene column, Porter discussed one of the achievement gaps found in our schools—the large achievement gap between “the rich and the poor.” That said, he never mentioned the large gap between our white kids and our black kids—and he built a puzzling framework around his whole discussion.

How large are our achievement gaps? “In some public schools,” Porter wrote, “children who are entering the sixth grade with the measured proficiency of first graders are mixed in with children who perform well above the sixth-grade standard.”

That represents a gigantic gap, but Porter built a puzzling framework around that startling portrait. Trusting the wisdom of the highly politicized education wing of the OECD, he seemed to criticize public schools for the way they handle these very large gaps:
PORTER (5/21/14): Three years ago, the [OECD] prepared a comprehensive report outlining what the United States could learn from the countries with the best-performing education systems.

One of its core recommendations belied American education’s egalitarian beginnings: Stop channeling disadvantaged students into a lower-quality education.

Tracking in the United States is not formal, as it is in Germany, where children are directed early in high school onto either a vocational path or one that requires a college education. “It tends to be done as a matter of practice or custom,” the O.E.C.D. noted…

Tracking also happens within schools, where students are often separated by ability. “Advanced children are all put together; they all know each other and learn from each other’s habits,” said Sal Khan, the founder of the Khan Academy of online education. “At the low end, it’s an intellectual wasteland.”
Can American education boast of “egalitarian beginnings?” In light of our punishing racial history, that is a very strange notion.

That said, we think that whole passage is odd. It’s odd to be told that vast achievement gaps obtain in our schools, then to be told that these schools should stop “tracking” students—should “stop channeling disadvantaged students into a lower-quality education.”

In that passage, Porter uses evocative language to make his readers feel that schools are improperly assigning their disadvantaged students.

But if some sixth-graders are working on first-grade level and others are working ahead of grade level, are schools really supposed to teach them the same math lessons? The contradiction here seems obvious, but Porter plowed ahead with his message:

“Tracking” is bad, the columnist said, even as he seemed to define the need for something resembling that practice.

Porter told a familiar old story: Schools are “channeling disadvantaged students into a lower-quality education.”

Somewhere in our public schools, that’s actually happening, of course. Disadvantaged students are being held back for inappropriate reasons.

But Porter’s recitation seemed a bit puzzling, given the rest of his exposition. Given our giant achievement gaps, what is a school to do?

That said, many journalists are happy to sing this familiar old song about schools. Consider Nikole Hannah-Jones’ recent portrait of Tuscaloosa’s three public high schools—a portrait we would call somewhat puzzling and perhaps just a bit dishonest.

Writing for ProPublica and The Atlantic, Hannah-Jones offered a 10,000-word piece about the “resegregation” of Tuscaloosa’s schools. Our view? In the course of exploring racial imbalance, she stumbled upon our humongous achievement gaps, then largely tried to avoid them.

As her focus, Hannah-Jones reported on Tuscaloosa’s Central High School. It’s an all-black school whose district lines were “gerrymandered,” Hannah-Jones convincingly writes, to ensure that it would serve “the city’s poorest part of town.”

Unsurprisingly, Hannah-Jones discovered a student body on the low end of the very large gaps which defines the current state of our public schools. Our achievement gaps remain very large, and they track to income and race.

What do achievement levels look like at Central High? Only two kids in the senior class passed the AP English exam last year. This year, D’Leisha Dent is one of 17 kids taking the same AP class. She is benefiting from the “tough honors coursework,” or so Hannah-Jones says.

Dent “excels in school,” Hannah-Porter reports; she’s one of the school’s brightest students. But alas! Dent, a superlative young person, can’t score well enough on the ACT to let her attend a four-year college next year.

Dent is one of Central’s brightest students—but on the ACT, she keeps scoring on the twentieth percentile nationwide. Avoiding what this seems to suggest, Hannah-Porter offers a familiar complaint about the way Central High was run when it was reconfigured as a low-income, all-black school:
HANNAH-JONES (4/16/14): [B]lack students, overall, are less likely than any other group of students to attend schools with Advanced Placement courses and high-level classes like calculus.

The night the Tuscaloosa school board voted to split up the old Central [High], board member Bryan Chandler pledged that there would be no winners and losers. Yet while Northridge [High] offered students a dozen Advanced Placement classes, the new Central went at least five years without a single one. Journalism awards stretch wall to wall in Northridge’s newspaper classroom, but for the better part of a decade, Central students didn’t have a school newspaper or a yearbook. Until last year, Central didn’t even offer physics.
Hannah-Jones presents some troubling facts in that passage. Other facts may make terrible sense, though Hannah-Jones skipped past such questions.

Given the giant size of our gaps, is it possible that no one in the reconfigured Central High was qualified, by normal standards, for Calculus 1 or AP English? By normal standards, does Dent, who is a superlative person, qualify for Advanced Placement coursework today?

These are uncomfortable questions, but they follow directly from Hannah-Jones’ reporting and from the size of our gaps. For many journalists, though, such questions seem to be best avoided.

Indeed, Hannah-Jones seemed to do that very thing when she discussed the previous version of Central High, which served the entire student population of Tuscaloosa.

In that earlier Central High, black kids and white kids attended together. Hannah-Jones files this familiar complaint:
HANNAH-JONES: In the fall of 1979, [the all-city version of] Central High School opened to serve all public-high-school students in the district—no matter their race, no matter whether they lived in the city’s public-housing projects or in one of the mansions along the meandering Black Warrior River. The mega-school, a creative solution to a complex problem, resulted from many hours of argument and negotiation...

The school was hardly perfect. Black students were disproportionately funneled into vocational classes, and white students into honors classes.
At the old Central High, white kids from mansions along the river attended school with black kids from Tuscaloosa’s housing projects. Given the nature of our nation’s large gaps, it was inevitable that black kids would be “disproportionately” represented in those honors classes.

Hannah-Jones, posing as heroine, says those kids were “funneled.” In our view, it may be a sin to posture like that about such an important matter.

That said, such posturing is quite widespread. Let’s just pretend those gaps don’t exist! Two Sundays ago, Princeton professor Imani Perry played this familiar card in the Washington Post’s Outlook section:
PERRY (5/18/14): Today, the Northeast has the most racially homogenous schools; New York state and Washington, D.C., have the most segregated schools—by race and economic status. And since there is no constitutional right to an education, the federal courts cannot mandate that schools get equal funding. Within schools, advanced programs have become forms of segregation. One study found that, as of 2006, African American students were underrepresented by 48 percent in gifted education; Hispanic students are underrepresented by 38 percent.
Do you understand the size of the gaps? If so, Perry’s statistics may not seem hugely surprising to you, depending on what they’re intended to mean.

But instead of explaining that basic fact, Professor Perry played the heroine too. It’s “segregation,” she said. The Washington Post chose to publish.

According to our most reliable data, black kids have recorded large score gains in recent decades. That’s very important, very good news.

It’s a sin to withhold those gains from the public, as the press corps relentlessly does in service to rank propaganda. It’s a sin to tolerate this silence, as the liberal world constantly does.

But even with those large score gains, large achievement gaps remain. Unless you’re reading one of the people who specialize in other forms of avoiding.

All next week, we’ll look at the size of our gaps, which testify to a brutal history no living person created. For any number of reasons, it’s important to understand the size of those gaps, along with the size of those very impressive gains.

In our view, Porter, Perry and Hannah-Jones were largely avoiding the size of the gaps in their recent reports. It’s a sin to ignore the gains, but we feel forced to suggest that their work may be a bit sinful too.

All next week: The size of the gaps

Starting June 9: What the gaps mean in the classroom

AVOIDING THE GAPS: Large test score gains!

THURSDAY, MAY 29, 2014

Part 3—But also, those punishing gaps: It has to be the greatest news you’re not allowed to hear.

Over (let’s say) the past twenty years, black kids seem to have made substantial progress in reading and math.

We refer to average scores by black students on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), the widely-praised “gold standard” of domestic educational testing.

The NAEP is a federally-run testing program which dates, in one of its two major forms, all the way back to 1971. The NAEP has always been considered our most reliable domestic testing program, in part because it has never been a “high-stakes” test.

The nation’s journalists swear by the NAEP; educational research feeds off its voluminous data. But in a weird act of fealty to elite propaganda about our allegedly failing schools, our journalists almost never tell the public what NAEP data seem to show.

Among the things the NAEP data show are large score gains by black kids. Those large score gains may be the best news the American people aren’t permitted to hear.

The so-called “Main NAEP” is given to national samples of students in Grade 4, Grade 8 and Grade 12. In math, 1996 is the first year which permits a pure statistical comparison in this particular program.

In news you aren’t permitted to hear, this is what black students’ score gains look like in Grade 8 math:
Average scores, black students, public schools
Grade 8 math, NAEP

2013: 262.73
1996: 239.28
Over that 17-year period, average scores by black eighth-graders rose by 23.45 points on this “gold standard” testing program.

Is that a big deal? Or is it just a statistical blip? According to a very rough rule of thumb, ten points on the NAEP scale is often compared to one academic year.

On average, did black students really record more than two years of progress in math over that 17-year span? That strikes us as very unlikely. For that reason, we always describe that ten-point rule as a very rough rule of thumb.

That said, the score gains have been quite large. In 2011, Richard Rothstein described the apparent progress in a piece for Slate. (For Rothstein's background, click here, then also click this.)

In his piece for Slate, Rothstein challenged some basic precepts of a familiar version of “education reform.” Given what we constantly hear about public schools, the highlighted passage is startling:
ROTHSTEIN (8/29/11): Central to the reformers' argument is the claim that radical change is essential because student achievement (especially for minority and disadvantaged children) has been flat or declining for decades. This is, however, false. The only consistent data on student achievement come from a federal sample, the National Assessment of Educational Progress. Though you would never know it from the state of public alarm about education, the numbers show that regular public school performance has skyrocketed in the last two decades to the point that, for example, black elementary school students now have better math skills than whites had only 20 years ago...The reason test score gaps have barely narrowed is that white students have also improved, at least at the elementary and middle school levels. The causes of these truly spectacular gains are unknown, but they are probably inconsistent with the idea that typical inner-city teachers are content to watch students wrestle on the classroom floor instead of learning.
In the highlighted passage, Rothstein referred to average scores on the Grade 4 NAEP math tests. He made a remarkable claim:

According to data from the NAEP, “black elementary school students now have better math skills than whites had only 20 years ago,” Rothstein said. Given what we constantly hear about stagnant or declining schools, can that possibly be accurate?

The data are there for all to see in our widely-praised “gold standard” testing program. As of 2005, black fourth-graders were scoring higher in math on the NAEP than white fourth-graders scored in 1990. These are some of the average scores to which Rothstein referred:
Average scores, public school students
Grade 4 math, NAEP

White students, 1990: 218.63

Black students, 2005: 219.69
Black students, 2007: 222.01
White students quickly improved on that 1990 average score. But unless something is grossly wrong with the NAEP data, black students seem to have made remarkable progress in math on the NAEP.

Black kids have recorded strong score gains in math! To all intents and purposes, this important fact is never reported by the nation’s “press corps.”

Instead, the press corps parrots standard scripts about the alleged decline of our public schools. The score gains in question are never reported. Needless to say, no attempt is made to quantify the likely size of the actual academic gains.

Black students have recorded strong score gains in recent decades on our most reliable tests. As Rothstein notes, white students have recorded strong score gains too. So have Hispanic students!

The refusal to report these facts has represented an act of vast journalistic misconduct. That said, our journalists offend against the interests of black kids in a wide array of ways.

Black kids have recorded strong score gains. Withholding that news is a vast offense against the American public.

But even as those gains occur, large achievement gaps remain. The failure to discuss those gaps represents a vast offense too.

All next week, we’ll be reviewing the size of our various gaps. We’ll consider the gap between “the rich and the poor,” the gap to which Eduardo Porter referred in a recent column. (See part 1 of this series.)

But we’ll also look at the very large gaps between our white kids and our black kids.

The press corps has refused to report the strong score gains achieved by black kids. But in various ways, the press corps also refuses to discuss the size and significance of the gaps, which do remain quite large.

Tomorrow, we’ll review some recent examples of this avoidance. We need to hear about those score gains. But if we care about black kids, the gaps must be discussed too.

Tomorrow: Recent avoidance/evasion

All next week: The size of the gaps

To access data from the NAEP: To access data from the NAEP, you should learn to use the NAEP Data Explorer. This would place you light-years ahead of our “education reporters.”

Click here, then click on MAIN NDE. Click again to agree to the terms. From there, you’re on your own!

This less powerful tool, NAEP State Comparisons, may be simpler to work with. It provides national data along with state-by-state scores.



Part 2—A disturbing situation obscured: In last week’s Economic Scene column, the New York Times’ Eduardo Porter painted a remarkable portrait of some American schools.

Porter discussed “the persistent gulf in the test results between the rich and the poor” in our public schools. For our previous report, click here.

On average, kids from lower-income families perform much less well in reading and math. Next week, we’ll quantify some of these gaps in academic achievement.

Low-income kids do much less well. In this remarkable passage, Porter described the size of the gaps which can be found in some of our middle schools:
PORTER (5/21/14): Addressing the vast disparities between students’ abilities will not be easy. In some public schools, children who are entering the sixth grade with the measured proficiency of first graders are mixed in with children who perform well above the sixth-grade standard.

Schools struggle to teach this mix. Teachers are frustrated: Almost half leave the profession within five years.
How wide can the achievement gap be within a middle school? In some middle schools, some entering sixth graders are “working with the measured proficiency of first graders,” Porter said. Other sixth-graders in these same schools are performing “well above sixth grade level.”

Porter didn’t say how many schools are struggling with this “vast disparity between students’ abilities.” (For our money, “student achievement” would be the more accurate term.) Truth to tell, he didn’t say how he knows there are any such schools at all.

That said, Nikole Hannah-Jones recently offered a similar, sobering portrait of the vast achievement gap which seems to exist within one city’s high schools. In a 10,000-word report in The Atlantic, she described the underside of our achievement gaps, as displayed by the senior class at Tuscaloosa’s Central High.

Hannah-Jones describes Central High as follows: “A struggling school serving the city’s poorest part of town, it is 99 percent black.”

How poor are the students at Central High? “More than 80 percent of them come from families with incomes low enough to qualify them for free or reduced-price lunches,” Hannah-Jones reports. (According to greatschools.org, the current statistic is 83 percent.)

For the record, this is not a measure of poverty. Nationwide, about 50 percent of public school students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch. By federal measures, the number of children living in poverty is more like 20 percent.

That said, Central High is plainly a low-income school. And as Hannah-Jones described the school’s senior class, she described the academic performance which obtains at the lower end of the “vast disparities” in achievement to which Porter referred.

Based on Hannah-Jones’ report, the students in this low-income school are not performing well academically. Hannah-Jones focused on one student, D’Leisha Dent, a superb young person who is president of Central High’s senior class.

Hannah-Jones reports that Dent is one of Central’s brightest students. At one point, she even says that Dent “excels in school.”

But other parts of Hannah-Jones’ profile of Dent should be extremely sobering. In the following passage, Hannah-Jones captures a scene from Dent’s Advanced Placement English class:
HANNAH-JONES (4/16/14): [Dent] eventually broke free from a tangle of girls to enter Tyrone Jones’s Advanced Placement English class and take her seat at the front. She dropped two black bags taut with notebooks and binders beside her desk.

Jones didn’t waste time setting the boisterous class to task. The AP exam was approaching. Students who didn’t score high enough wouldn’t get college credit for the class. Even though the 17 girls and boys gathered in front of him made up Central’s brightest, their practice essay about a poem hadn’t gone so well.

D’Leisha raised her hand, her brow furrowed. How many kids had made the cutoff last year? she asked. Only two students had, but the teacher dodged the question. “I really do believe all of you can make those scores,” he said.
Only two seniors at Central High had passed the AP exam last year. Nor do things look much better for Dent’s group, though Hannah-Jones makes no attempt to complete a full portrait.

Given Dent’s status as one of Central High’s brightest seniors, Hannah-Jones’ portrait of her struggle to attend college ought to be deeply distressing. Based upon enrollment figures, those 17 kids in that AP class seem to be roughly the top ten percent of Central High’s senior class. Dent’s inclusion in that group might lead you to think, or even to say, that she “excels in school.”

But at the very end of her lengthy report, Hannah-Jones profiled Dent’s college prospects. The great disgrace, and the challenge, of American history are both on vivid display in this passage:
HANNAH-JONES: Standing one day last fall outside the counselor’s office at Central, D’Leisha looked up at the college bulletin board. It was dominated by National Guard and Army flyers, with some brochures for small Alabama colleges tucked among them. Students with D’Leisha’s grades and tough honors coursework often come home to mailboxes stuffed with glossy college brochures. But most days, nothing showed up in the mail for her, and no colleges had come calling. She had taken the ACT college-entrance exam twice already. The first time she scored a 16, the second time a 17. Her mother’s alma mater, the University of Alabama, expects a 21, the national average. Many four-year colleges will not even consider students who score below an 18.


Because D’Leisha excels in school and everything else she’s involved in, her teachers and counselors don’t worry about whether she’s on the right track. They’re stretched thin trying to keep in class the seniors—roughly 35 percent of them—who fail to graduate each year. But in December, at home texting with her boyfriend, D’Leisha admitted that she’d filled out only one college application. Lately, she said, she’d been looking more closely at those military brochures, just as her grandfather had, something that angers her mother. “I am kind of clueless how to get stuff done for college,” D’Leisha told me, looking down and fidgeting with her phone. “They are supposed to be helping us, but they think because I am the class president I know what to do. Sometimes I don’t speak up, because I know people have expectations of me.”

For black students like D’Leisha—the grandchildren of the historic Brown decision—having to play catch-up with their white counterparts is supposed to be a thing of the past. The promise was that students of all colors would be educated side by side, and would advance together into a more integrated, equitable American society. Polls show Americans embracing this promise in the abstract, but that rarely translates into on-the-ground support for integration efforts.

Late last year, D’Leisha took the ACT for the third time, but her score dropped back to 16. So early on a Saturday in February, she got up quietly, forced a few bites of a muffin into her nervous stomach, and drove once again to the community college where the test is administered. A few weeks later, she got her score: 16 again. She contemplated a fifth attempt, but could see little point.
Dent seems to have been in the top ten percent of Central High’s entering freshman class. Hannah-Jones describes her as one of Central’s brightest students.

She says that Dent “excels in school.” She seems to say that Dent has received good grades in classes with “tough honors coursework.”

By the standards of her low-income high school, Dent is a top student. But by the standards of her nation, she rather plainly is not.

Her score of 16 of the ACT places her around the 20th percentile among test-takers nationwide. Even though she’s a three-time individual state champion in track, she can’t get a nibble from a four-year college.

In his column in the New York Times, Porter referred to the “vast disparities” in academic achievement between “the rich and the poor” in our public schools.

Almost surely, Dent’s family isn’t “poor.” According to Hannah-Jones, her mother, a university graduate, has had a substantial full-time job for many years. She owns the family home.

But Dent keeps scoring poorly on the ACT—and she seems to be one of her high school’s best students! Inferentially, this supports the claim Porter made about those vast disparities in academic achievement.

How can an entire high school be performing this poorly? Put another way, if Dent is one of Central’s best students, what is the academic profile of the bottom half of her senior class?

Despite the great length of her report, Hannah-Jones makes no real attempt to answer that second question. She complains that Dent and most of her classmates have always attended all-black schools. She describes this state of affairs as “resegregation,” recalling the days when an Alabama governor stood in the schoolhouse door.

In a fleeting set of claims, Hannah-Jones suggests that Dent would likely be doing better academically had she attended schools with black and white kids.

That may be true, although it's a supposition. But Hannah-Jones makes no attempt to quantify this supposition, which she says is based on research. And she makes no real attempt to develop a fuller profile of Central High’s many struggling students, many of whom are presumably faring much worse than Dent.

How poorly are all those other kids doing? Hannah-Jones makes no real attempt to say.

In his column in the Times, Porter discussed the achievement gaps which obtain between “the rich and the poor.” In the process, he completely ignored the very large gaps which obtain between our white kids and our black kids—and as we’ll see next week, those two gaps are not two different versions of the same phenomenon.

In our view, Hannah-Jones largely avoided this topic too—the size of the very troubling gap between our white kids and our black kids. Tomorrow, we’ll see her joined by other writers in a form of open deception about this enormous national problem, which needs to be fully discussed.

Black kids are doing much better in school! For years, we’ve begged the nation’s journalists to report this important good news, all to no avail.

The public is almost never told about the large score gains which have been recorded by black kids on our one reliable testing program. That said, a very large black/white achievement gap still exists.

A great deal of energy is expended in avoiding that basic fact. We think those efforts to avoid and evade are bad for the future of black kids.

Tomorrow: Outright avoidance

Our plan for this series: We expect this series, “Our month of the gaps,” to extend four or five weeks.

All next week, we’ll be discussing the size of our nation’s various achievement gaps. How large are the achievement gaps between higher- and lower-income kids? How large are the gaps between our black kids and our white kids?

Beyond that, how large are the gaps between lower-income and higher-income kids of various groups? A lot of energy is expended in avoiding such facts.

Our achievement gaps are very large; they ought to be very troubling. Hannah-Jones’ evasive report has finally convinced us of one point—all these gaps should be discussed, every single one.

AVOIDING THE GAPS: Porter picks and chooses!

TUESDAY, MAY 27, 2014

Part 1—Some of the gaps disappear: In last week’s Economic Scene column, the New York Times’ Eduardo Porter avoided some of the gaps.

We refer to the “achievement gaps” which help define the state of America’s public schools. At a glance, you might not see that Porter was avoiding some of those gaps.

As he started his column, Porter stressed a familiar old theme—the alleged failure of American schools as compared to those in the rest of the developed world. Then, he cited one of our highly significant gaps—“the persistent gulf in the test results between the rich and the poor:”
PORTER (5/21/14): Every few years, the United States faces the ritual humiliation of seeing how its educational standards trail those of most other industrial countries.

The most recent came in 2012, when tests performed by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development for 15-year-olds found the United States in 26th place among 34 countries in math, 17th place in reading and 21st place in science.

But perhaps even more disturbing, the report highlighted another trend; the persistent gulf in the test results between the rich and the poor.

According to calculations by the OECD, socioeconomic background explains 15 percent of the variation in the performance of American students, far more than in high-performing countries like Finland, Japan and Norway. Only one in 20 children coming from the most disadvantaged quarter of the population manages to excel at school and climb out of the rankings.
For what it’s worth, Norway has never been a “high-performing country” on the international tests to which Porter referred. Not being an education specialist, the Timesman may not have known that.

Porter was referring to test results from the 2012 PISA—the OECD’s Program for International Student Assessment. The PISA is one of two major international testing programs in which most developed nations take part.

According to Porter, the United States faced its latest “ritual humiliation” when those latest PISA results were released. According to Porter, those results demonstrated a disturbing trend: “the persistent gulf in the test results between the rich and the poor” in this country.

In saying this, Porter highlighted one type of “achievement gap” even as he avoided another.

How big is the gap in test results between “the rich and the poor” in this country? Porter didn’t attempt to quantify that gap in his 1300-word column. (Before this month-long series is finished, we will examine that question.)

Porter didn’t quantify the gap between “the rich and the poor.” That said, it seems a bit strange to read that “socioeconomic background explains 15 percent of the variation in the performance of American students.”

Most Times readers wouldn’t be able to explain or paraphrase that technical statement. That said, American students record an unusually wide range of scores on the PISA, as compared to students in countries like Finland and Korea. Given the unusually large gaps between our highest- and lowest-scoring students, Porter’s statistic—15 percent of the variation explained!—sounds remarkably small.

At any rate, our nation’s achievement gaps are large—and Porter went on to paint a fascinating portrait of our gaps in action. We don’t think we’ve ever read a more striking account of the size of these gaps in the public school setting, or of the problems these “vast disparities” can create in our schools:
PORTER: Addressing the vast disparities between students’ abilities will not be easy. In some public schools, children who are entering the sixth grade with the measured proficiency of first graders are mixed in with children who perform well above the sixth-grade standard.

Schools struggle to teach this mix. Teachers are frustrated: Almost half leave the profession within five years.
In that remarkable portrait, Porter pictures American middle schools whose entering sixth-graders display a very wide range of achievement levels.

Some sixth-graders enter these schools with the measured proficiency of first graders, Porter says. Some of their classmates are working well above the sixth grade level!

How many American schools struggle to teach such a mix—struggle to address such vast gaps? Porter doesn’t attempt to answer that question. We’ll return to that remarkable passage before our series is through.

Porter pictures enormous achievement gaps in some of our public schools. He says a recent report from the OECD calls attention to the “vast disparities” which obtain between “the rich and the poor.”

As such, he highlights one type of gap in our American schools. But in the process, he avoids another type of achievement gap which defines our American schools—the achievement gap which still obtains between our white kids and our black kids.

That gap is smaller than it once was, a fact which is very good news. But even today, the gap between our black and white kids is often larger than the gap between our upper-income and our lower-income kids, if we look at our most reliable testing data.

Black kids have been performing much better in recent decades—but white kids have performed better too. As a result, the gaps which obtain between these groups remain extremely large.

For years, we’ve begged journalists to tell the public about the strong score gains being recorded by black kids. Assuming the reliability of the data, those score gains constitute very important good news.

The substantial score gains by our black students are extremely important—and they’re a well-kept secret. But the gaps which remain between white and black kids are very important too.

Porter stressed one type of gap, the gap between “the rich and the poor.” He never mentioned another gap, the gap between black kids and white kids.

Mainstream journalists often adopt this approach. They’re often joined by “liberal” advocates.

Almost surely, this practice is bad for black kids. Over the course of the next month, we’ll be explaining why.

Tomorrow—Part 2: Hannah-Jones downplays the gap

Extra credit—close reading assignment: At one point, Porter makes a fleeting, hidden reference to the large gaps which still obtain between our white kids and our black kids.


Can you see where that hidden reference occurs? Why is the reference disguised?

Starting tomorrow: Our month of the gaps!

MONDAY, MAY 26, 2014

It's time the gaps were explained and explored: Tomorrow, we'll start a month-long series about our nation's "achievement gaps."

For reasons we'll be explaining, it's time that these very large gaps were explained and explored. Mainstream and liberal journalists are routinely reluctant to do so.

For us, this recent 10,000-word report in The Atlantic really drove home this point. We thought Nikole Hannah-Jones focused on a very old theme in her very lengthy report. In the process, she ignored and obscured a much larger story which had been uncovered by her reporting.

"Our month of the gaps" begins tomorrow. If we care about Ameircan kids—and it isn't entirely clear that we do—we think the topics we will explore will be extremely important.

Tomorrow: Porter describes the gaps

TWO WOMEN: Howell Raines was too brusque too!

FRIDAY, MAY 23, 2013

Part 4—The danger of standard stories: We're still without our connectivity! But thanks to our corporate partners at FedEx, we bring you this brief report.

Off and on, we've examined the plights of two women this week.

The plight of one woman, Jill Abramsonm, has been discussed at length. The plight of a younger woman, D'Leisha Dent, has been almost completely ignored.

It's also true that each woman's plight has been interpreted in terms of a familiar old story. According to these familiar stories, Abramson lost her job as executive editor of the New York Times because of sexism in the workplace. When The Atlantic devoted 10,000 words to Dent's plight, it focused on "resegregation" in the South.

For the most part, The Atlantic ignored a larger story, a story concerning Dent's academic profile and that of the rest of her senior class at Tuscaloosa's Central High. Starting next week, we'll devote several weeks to that topic, in a set of reports we will call "The Gaps."

For today, consider a claim about Abramson's plight. No man in her position would have lost his job for being considered too "brusque," some have said.

Did Abramson lose her job because of gender bias? We can't answer that question. We can report the way Howell Raines was described in the press when he lost the same job at the Times in 2003.

Raines had been on the job less than two years when he was dispatched. In July 2003, Bill Keller was named as his successor. USA Today's Peter Johnson started his rpeort like this:
JOHNSON (7/15/03): Bill Keller, a New York Times columnist and former managing editor, was named executive editor Monday, replacing Howell Raines, who was ousted after the Jayson Blair plagiarism scandal.

Keller, 54, said he will dismantle Raines' centralized management structure, in which most decisions came from a handful of top editors.


Keller, 54, is a Pulitzer Prize-winning foreign correspondent who is popular with many staffers—a contrast to Raines, whose brusque management style and reporter/editor "star system" offended many employees.
According to Johnson, Raines had bene disfavored by many due to "brusque management style."

This was a very standard view. Six weeks earlier, when Raines was dispatched, this was what Howard Kurtz wrote. Headline included:
KURTZ (6/9/03): Howell Raines's Tenure: It Left a Nasty Mark

Now, of course, it's easy for some New York Times staffers to unload on Howell Raines.

Jerelle Kraus, a Times art director, told reporters that Raines reminds her of "Caligula" and is "the nastiest editor I've ever worked with." One Times veteran says there is still "venom" in the air toward the departed executive editor.

But since when are newsrooms supposed to be democracies? Or editors supposed to be warm, hand-holding types? Running a huge newspaper is a rough business that sometimes requires knocking heads. Can Raines really have resigned under pressure because much of the staff found him an unpleasant son of a gun?

The answer is yes—a more popular editor would have ridden out the storm—but it's more complicated than that...
Raines was dispatched in the wake of the Jayson Blair plagiarism scandal. He was widely described in terms which are quite similar to the terms applied to Abramson in the past week.

Raines, a man, was too brusque too. Reporters stressed the point that Keller, his replacement, had a more pleasant personal style.

Reading descriptions of Abramson and Raines, we've been struck by the similar way the tyros have been described. Consider Ken Auletta's report when Abramson took over at the Times in 2011.

As Auletta described the new boss, he described her many talents. He also described her downsides—and they brought Raines to mind. In this passage, Auletta described Abramson's first day on the job:
AULETTA (10/24/11): Abramson had previously been the paper’s managing editor, and many in the newsroom considered her to be intimidating and brusque; she was too remote and, they thought, slightly similar to an earlier executive editor, the talented but volcanic Howell Raines, who had also begun the job right after Labor Day, in 2001. After less than two years, Raines was forced out, and his memory is still cursed.
Oof! It seems that Raines was so brusque, his memory was still being cursed! Later in Auletta's profile, the comparison pops up again:
AULETTA: While colleagues respect Abramson’s news judgment, they are wary of her sometimes brusque manner. In the summer of 2010, nearly two dozen editors met to plan coverage for the midterm elections. Although Abramson was still working on the online paper, she decided to attend. The gathering was chaired by the national editor, Richard Berke, and the political editor, Richard Stevenson. They began to talk about stories they wanted covered. Abramson interrupted, without allowing them to finish the presentation, and began belittling many of their ideas.

“This was a small earthquake of a meeting,” one reporter, who was informed about it shortly afterward, says. “She whacked editors,” a senior editor who heard about the meeting says. Glenn Kramon, an assistant managing editor, says of Abramson, “The challenge is to say what she wants, not what she doesn’t like.” A senior editor says, “She and Howell are remarkably similar. They are big personalities. They suck the air out of the room. They tell stories about themselves...Unlike Howell, she is not mean. Jill is a nice, caring person...She doesn’t enjoy torturing people. So much of her negativity is unintended.”

Even her supporters were mildly critical of her behavior at the political meeting. Dean Baquet, the acting managing editor at the time, says, “I wouldn’t have handled it that way.” Her criticism “was too sharp.” Abramson now admits, “I think I was probably too tough,” and “hijacked the meeting in a way that was not helpful.”
In Auletta's long report, you read about the back-biting and undermining (by Abramson) which helped ease Raines out of his post. It sounds remarkably like the back-biting and undermining aimed at Abramson which has been attributed to Baquet in the last week.

One other example is worth noting. Last year, Politico's Dylan Byers reported that many staffers at the Times were upset with Abramson's management style. Once again, the comparison to Raines appeared:
BYERS (4/23/13): Months into the job, reporters and editors once again took notice of what they described as Abramson’s brusque approach, which had become only more pronounced now that Abramson was running the show. Every New York Times executive editor has demonstrated the ability to cut someone off at the knees, sources acknowledge, but Abramson did it with a frequency that was demoralizing to almost everyone involved.


“It’s beginning to reach Howell Raines-like proportions,” one staffer said, referring to the former executive editor who, from 2001 to 2003, is reported to have ruled the paper through humiliation and fear before being forced to resign after the Jayson Blair plagiarism scandal.

Others cautioned against such a drastic comparison. Indeed, some think Abramson’s dismissive tone may even be inadvertent. “I don’t know if she realizes how condescending she can be,” one staff member said.
Once again, the comparison to Raines appeared, with people saying that Abramson's approach, while brusque, wasn't quite that bad. In these discussions, the woman was too brusque, but the man had been even worse.

Why did Abramson lose her job? We have no idea. We also have no opinion about her management style.

As a general matter, are women judged differently in the workplace? Presumably, the answer may often be yes. But we can't say if this occurred in the curent case.

Familiar old stories will often be used to explain new events. Abramson's plight was explained in terms of sexism in the workplace. Dent's plight was filtered through the lens of "segregation."

In the case of Dent, we think that familiar old lens obliterated a much larger story. Connectivity willing, we'll start exploring that story next week.

We think that story is very important. We very much hope you'll attend.

How important is "resegregation?"

THURSDAY, MAY 22, 2014

Our review of a slippery concept: Connectivity is hard!

As our connectivity struggles continue, we'll review a current topic and do no more today. Our question:

How important is "resegregation," a topic which has come center stage in reviews of the Brown decision.

Yesterday, we discussed this topic on The Marc Steiner Show. Today, we'll discuss the question here, focusing on this recent piece by Slate's Jamelle Bouie.

Bouie tied his piece to the 60th anniversary of Brown. The headlines on it said this:
Still Separate and Unequal
Why American schools are becoming segregated once again.
Are American public schools "becoming segregated once again?" It all depends on what you mean by a term like "segregation." Let's look at what Bouie said in the heart of his piece:
BOUIE (5/15/14): As Nikole Hannah-Jones details for ProPublica, federal desegregation orders helped “break the back of Jim Crow education in the South, helping transform the region’s educational systems into the most integrated in the country.” She continues, “In 1963, about 1 percent of black children in the South attended school with white children. By the early 1970s, the South had been remade—fully 90 percent of black children attended desegregated schools.”

The problem today is that these gains are reversing. As the Civil Rights Project shows, minority students across the country are more likely to attend majority-minority schools than they were a generation ago.
We don't know exactly what Hannah-Jones means in that first highlighted passage. Does she mean that 90 percent of black students in the South were "attending school with white children" at that historical juncture?

We're not sure, but the question doesn't affect the manin point Bouie makes in that passage: "minority students across the country are more likely to attend majority-minority schools than they were a generation ago."

That statement is basically true, no matter how you slice the data. That said, an important fact gets omitted here—the American student population has massively changed in the period under review.

In just the past twenty years, the student population has gone from roughly 70 percent white to roughly 50 percent white. It shouldn't be surprising if a higher percentage of kids attend majority-minoity schools under that changed circusmtance.

For what it's with, there's nothing automatically "wrong" with attending a majority-minorty school. We have a young relative who attends such a school, and she effusively loves it.

That said, we shouldn't discuss this general topic without noting the overall change in the student population. We have a lot more "minority students" than was once the case. Presumably, all the changes discussed in Bouie's piece are affected by that fact.

At any rate, it's true that many minority kids are attending majority-minority schools. As he continued, Bouie offered some statistics. We were struck by one comparison he offered, and by one term he used:
BOUIE (continuing directly): The average white student, for instance, attends a school that’s 73 percent white, 8 percent black, 12 percent Latino, and 4 percent Asian-American. By contrast, the average black student attends a school that’s 49 percent black, 17 percent Latino, 4 percent Asian-American, and 28 percent white. And the average Latino student attends a school that’s 57 percent Latino, 11 percent black, 25 percent white, and 5 percent Asian-American.

But this understates the extent to which minority students—and again blacks in particular—attend hyper-segregated schools. In 2011, more than 40 percent of black students attended schools that were 90 percent minority or more. That marks an increase over previous years. In 1991, just 35 percent of black students attended schools with such high levels of segregation.
There are several ways to measure the degree of "segregation" (racial imbalance) in our public schools. Using one of the basic measures, Bouie notes that 35 percent of black kids attended schools which werE at least 90 percent minority in 1991. Today, he says the figure is 40 percent.

We'll be honest—that strikes us as a fairly small change, given the overall change in student population we described above. You might want to black kids attending schools with more racial balance; we'd be inclined to agree about that. But the change which Bouie cites doesn't seem especially large, given the overall change in demographics.

Beyond that, we were struck by the use of the term "hyper-segregated" school. Here's why:

In 1954, a school which was 90 percent black and ten percent white would have had a different name; iit woukd have been called "integrated." Had that school been in the South, rioting would have occurred.

In those days, a school had to be entirely black just to be called "segregated." Today, if a school is 90 percent black, we call it hyper-segregated!

In such ways, we may perhaps gin up our language to keep old fights and movements alive. When we do this, we may sometimes distract ourselves from larger, current struggles.

As Bouie continued, he talked about changes in enrollment patterns in different regions. At this point, the time has come to talk about the real world:
BOUIE (continuing directly): Even more striking is the regional variation. While hyper-segregation has increased across the board, it comes after staggering declines in the South, the “border states”—Delaware, Kentucky, Maryland, and Missouri, i.e., former slaveholding states that never joined the Confederacy—the Midwest, and the West. In the Northeast, however, school segregation has increased, going from 42.7 percent in 1968 to 51.4 percent in 2011. Or, put another way, desegregation never happened in the schools of the urban North.
In one sense, it's clearly true: "desegregation" of the type addressed by Brown didn't happen in the urban North. Brown was not an attempt to address the kinds of racial imbalance in schools which were caused by housing patterns. It addressed legal separation, in which kids were (for example) forbidden to attend their own neighborhood schools on the basis of race.

It's true! Many black kids in the North attend school with few white classmates, or with none at all. The reason for this may become clear when we considre the student demographics of these large public school systems in the Baltimore/Washington area.

Here are the relevant enrollment figures. Simply put, you can't produce racially balanaced schools in big school districts like these:
Baltimore City Public Schools
Black students: 71,762
Hispanic students: 4,452
White students: 6,749

Prince George's County (Md.) Schools
Black students: 81,786
Hispanic students: 29,904
White students: 5,597

District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS only)
Black students: 71 percent
Hispanic students: 15 percent
White students: 10 percent
You can't produce racially balanced schools in big school districts like these.

We can call the schools in these districts "hyper-segregated" if we like. But children in these big school systems will be attending majority minority schools long into the future.

Children in our big urban districts will not be attending racially balanced schools any time soon. On balance, we would prefer that this wasn't the case.

But our schools will be unbalanced. To the extent that we ignore this fact or dream about better worlds, we tend to skip past a very large current problem:

How do we serve these hundreds of thousands of kids when they show up for the first day of school? Our question takes on added meaning as Bouie continues:
BOUIE (continuing directly): Today in New York, for instance, 64.6 percent of black students attend hyper-segregated schools. In New Jersey, it’s 48.5 percent and in Pennsylvania it’s 46 percent. They’re joined by Illinois (61.3 percent), Maryland (53.1 percent), and Michigan (50.4 percent). And these schools are distinctive in another way: More than half have poverty rates above 90 percent. By contrast, just 1.9 percent of schools serving whites and Asians are similarly impoverished.
Making things worse, Bouis says that more than half these schools have poverty rates above 90 percent!

Bouie would like it better if our school enrollments looked different. On balance, we feel the same way. And without question, the challenges facing these big urban schools are magnified when we consider issues of income. Lots of kids in these schools come from low-income, low-literacy backgrounds. How do we involve these kids in the culture of literacy? How do we serve them best?

Alas! When people focus on issues of "resegregation," they may tend to skip past such basic questions. Here's the problem:

Hundreds of thousands of deserving kids in big urban systems will be attending school next year. Inevitably, their schools will often be low-income, majority minority schools.

We can dream about racial balance as much as we like. But those schools will not be racially balanced any time soon. On the other hand, deserving kids will be in their seats:

What do we do to serve them? How do we serve them best?

One final point: We're fairly sure that Bouie's figure about poverty rates is wrong. Even after reviewing his cource, we'll guess he's talking about the percentage of kids who qualify for free or reduced price lunch. That isn't a measure of poverty.

We note that fact for a reason. Bouie took his lead in this piece from anti-resegregation scholars. These advocates may have the best intentions. But they also may tend to jack up their language and their data to heighten our sense of the plight they prefer to address.

We've taught in the Baltimore City Schools; our values are somewhat different. We want to know what those systems will be doing to serve their students next September.

They will be running majority minority schools with majority minority classrooms. Those classrooms will be full of American kids.

What will happen in those classrooms? In our view, it's shameful to see how very rarely that question gets discussed.

TWO WOMEN: A familiar old story!


Interlude—Two letter writers explain: We're having connectivity issues today. Thanks to a special arrangement with Kinko's, we're able to bring you this post.

What explains Jill Abramson's plight? In this morning's New York Times, two readers fall back on a familiar old story.

This story has often been right in the past. It could even be right in this case! The first letter writer, from West Newton, Mass., feels sure about what she's been hearing:
LETTER TO THE NEW YORK TIMES: I’ve been a reader of The New York Times for a very long time now, and this is the first time that I am really angry with its management. I know that the publisher has the right to fire anyone on the staff, but it should be for poor performance.

The part of Jill Abramson’s performance as executive editor that I care about is providing full and accurate news, which she has done; witness the eight Pulitzers during her tenure. The rest seems to be issues of poor communication, the fault for which may lie on either side, or both.

When adjectives like “pushy” and “mercurial” are widely used in discussions of the firing of the first female executive editor of The Times, I know what I’m hearing.

Prove to me and other faithful female readers that The Times is not an old boys’ club underneath it all.
Has this reader heard the term "pushy" applied to Abramson? Actually yes, she has.

Last week, Abramson's daughter used the term in an Instagram bearing that hashtag. At the same time, The New Yorker's Ken Auletta put the word "pushy" in quotes, without identifying anyone who has actually said it. Auletta seemed to be presenting Team Abramson's account of Abramson's plight.

The magic word "pushy" jumped straight to Salon and into millions of hearts. The term has been thrown around quite a bit. But has anyone actually said the word, other than Abramson's team?

The second letter writer tells a version of this same story. The story has often been true in the past. Is it true in this case?
LETTER TO THE NEW YORK TIMES: I couldn’t help but notice the simultaneous ousters of The New York Times’s executive editor and Le Monde’s editor in chief, both women, reported on the same day...

Despite cultural differences in French and American journalism, the reasons given for both women’s expulsion demonstrate a remarkable parallel: a “mercurial” and brusque management style in the case of Jill Abramson at The Times, and a “top-down management style” for Natalie Nougayr├Ęde at Le Monde. When have such management styles been a liability for male editors?

Ms. Abramson and Ms. Nougayr├Ęde, whose competence was never in question, were both the first women to occupy these top roles in their papers. It’s a sad day for journalism when the female leaders of two of the world’s foremost newspapers are told to be less demanding in order to win the backing of their senior editors and publishers.
According to this standard story, no man could ever get in trouble for a brusque management style. Tomorrow, we'll show you the way Howell Raines was described in 2003, when he was booted from the same job Abramson has now lost.

It's easy to fall back on standard old stories to explain new events. Such stories have often been right in the past. The story told by these letter writers may be right in this case.

On the other hand, standard old stories may sometimes blind us to the realities of the present. That may be happening in this case. We think it did happen with regard to the plight of D'Leisha Dent.

Dent's plight has been explained through use of a familiar old story about segregation in the South. Some elements of that story seem to obtain in Dent's case. But we think the old story served to obscure a much more important plight.

Connectivity willing, we'll discuss Howell Raines tomorrow. We'll discuss Dent's plight all next week.

For what it's worth, the New York Times has done an abysmal job discussing the plight of kids like Dent, both under Abramson's leadership and before. All the flash off those Pulitzer Prizes can't obscure that fact.

Each writer feel certain of Abramson's competence. Her newspaper's treatment of kids like Dent tells us they shouldn't feel sure.

We’d say Karl Rove is getting results!

TUESDAY, MAY 20, 2014

On the brighter side, so is Thoreau: In our view, Karl Rove was getting results in this morning’s New York Times.

Frank Bruni started by noting the reams of crap that Hillary Clinton has absorbed through the years. Weirdly but familiarly, here’s where that thinking took him:
BRUNI (5/20/14): If Republicans believed in global warming, they’d surely divine her hand in it. Speaking of body parts, I suspect we’ll move from Hillary’s brain to her heart, probably her liver, possibly her pancreas and maybe even her pinkie toe. What Hillary goes through in the public arena isn’t an examination. It’s a vivisection.

That she endures it is admirable. That she’s so willing to is scary. With all politicians, you worry about the intensity of the hunger that enables them to suffer the snows of Iowa and the slings and arrows of outrageous pundits. With Hillary and Bill, you worry that it’s rapaciousness beyond bounds.

You also grow weary. The Clintons are exhausting. And that’s just one of many drawbacks worth discussing as Hillary plays Hamlet, mulling what to do.
Truly, this is a classic piece of Clinton/Gore journalism. The Smithsonian ought to preserve it.

Bruni is struck by all the shit that’s aimed at Hillary Clinton. His conclusion?

Just like that, it makes him think that the Clintons are rapacious! Also, that they’re exhausting.

Rove peddles shit about Hillary’s brain. This means that she is exhausting!

And not only that! Just like that, Bruni is calling Hillary Hamlet, apparently because she hasn’t announced whether she is running.

No candidate has ever announced this early in a four-year cycle. To Bruni, Clinton’s failure to announce means she can’t make up her mind.

This is the way this game has gone for a very long time. When we see such familiar reactions, we see Rove getting results.

Yesterday, we saw Joan Walsh sounding off on Rove. We often wonder if the new Walsh is a total confection, or if this person is somehow connected to the original version of Walsh.

At any rate, this is part of what she wrote. We know this is a standard script. But can Walsh possibly mean this?
WALSH (5/19/14): [Rove] took the chance to hit back at White House press secretary Jay Carney, who mocked him for challenging Fox calling the state of Ohio, and the election, for President Obama, as an example of someone whose own “cognitive capabilities” ought to be questioned. Not surprisingly, Rove defended himself: “We ought to define, if we’re calling it, we ought to be willing to defend it and explain it to the American people.” He then described Fox’s humiliating on-air fact-checking of its own election call as “45 minutes of really good television.”

That’s right: The cringe-making episode in which Fox’s Megyn Kelly was forced to leave Rove’s side and travel to the network’s data-crunching boiler room and ask trained professionals why they were disagreeing with a partisan hack; the episode that served as an object lesson in the dangers of epistemic closure, also known as what happens when living in an echo chamber makes you literally dumber—that was “45 minutes of really good television.”

Now, that’s Rove’s spin—even he isn’t addled enough to think it was good television. But he is addled enough to think it’s good spin.
Speaking of being made literally dumber, can Walsh possibly think those things? Or is she just fluffing us rubes?

By now, about three million people have described that election-night episode as “good television.” And no, it wasn’t stupid for Rove to do what he did, even though the Fox projection turned out to be right that time.

On election night 2000, the “trained professionals” at the networks called Florida wrong two different ways before their labors were done! In fairness, maybe Walsh didn’t stay up that late. She seemed to understand nothing else about that brutal election.

According to Walsh, Rove was challenging the “trained professionals” who were calling the shots for Fox! We know—this is a standard talking-point with which we liberals now get pleasured.

Surely, though, Walsh is simply running us rubes when she says such ridiculous things. Please tell us she can’t really mean it!

On the brighter side, it was a beautiful early morning as we walked to the coffee joint today. Each day, we walk through block-long Pearlstone Park, which lies between MICA’s Mt. Royal Station and the Meyerhoff Symphony Hall.

Perhaps because of a cool, wet spring, the park looks like the forest primeval. Entering this morning, our favorite passage from Thoreau popped right into our head:

“This is a delicious evening, when the whole body is one sense, and imbibes delight through every pore. I go and come with a strange liberty...”

At the joint, we read about incompleteness. What could be better than that?

What the heck is “segregation?”

TUESDAY, MAY 20, 2014

Watching an issue get muddled: On its masthead, Education Week bills itself as “American education’s newspaper of record.”

We’re often struck by how poor the journalism can be in this paper of record. We had that reaction to a major part of Lesli Maxwell’s front-page report in the May 14 edition.

Maxwell was writing about the Brown decision, which turned 60 this month. She started with a fascinating report about the nation’s student population.

Headline included:
MAXWELL (5/14/14): 60 Years After Brown, School Diversity More Complex Than Ever

American schooling will reach a milestone next fall when white students, for the first time, make up fewer than half of all children enrolled in public schools, according to federal projections.

Black enrollment, holding fairly steady in recent years, will hover between 16 percent and 17 percent.

Hispanic enrollment, meanwhile, will continue to surge, with its share of the K-12 population expected to hit 30 percent within the next decade. And the proportion of Asians and Pacific Islanders in public schools is also expected to be on the uptick, though much less dramatic than the rise for Latinos.
Student demographics have changed in remarkable amazing ways in the sixty years since Brown. That said, we were struck by the way Maxwell continued:
MAXWELL (continuing directly): But even with such ground-shifting demographic changes in the nation's public schools, the schools in many communities continue to be highly segregated 60 years after the U.S. Supreme Court, on May 17, 1954, struck down the principle of "separate but equal" education.

"To separate them from others of similar age and qualifications solely because of their race generates a feeling of inferiority as to their status in the community that may affect their hearts and minds in a way unlikely to ever be undone," Chief Justice Earl Warren wrote of black students in the unanimous ruling overturning racial segregation in public education.

Today, it is still rare for white students to attend schools where they represent less than 25 percent of enrollment. Schools filled with students of a single race remain common. And one-race districts—especially in struggling urban centers and pockets of the rural Deep South—are not unusual.
Do schools in many communities “continue to be highly segregated?” Especially in the context of Brown, we’d say that construction is misleading, confusing, unhelpful.

As Maxwell notes, we continue to have all-white schools and all-black schools, even one-race school districts.

For ourselves, we’d prefer to see black, white and Hispanic kids going to school together. But for the most part, our all-black/all-white schools aren’t “segregated” within the meaning of Brown.

The Brown decision turned on the question of legal separation. As is clear in Maxwell's quote from Brown, the decision considered the effects of schooling in which children were separated from others “solely because of their race.”

The Brown decision didn’t outlaw racial imbalance in schools. We really can’t see the gain from fuzzing this distinction, which we progressives currently love to do.

Yesterday, we looked at the way Professor Perry fuzzed this distinction in Sunday’s Washington Post. Later in Maxwell’s report, a progressive advocate argued that “de jure segregation”—segregation by law, the type Brown outlawed—still exists, in this rarefied form:
MAXWELL: "The fact of the matter is that vestiges of prior de jure segregation still remain in many cases," said Leticia Smith-Evans, the interim director of the education practice for the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund in Washington, referring to school segregation that was a matter of law or official policy.

"There are policies in districts that impact resource allocation, or which students are getting access to rigorous classes and gifted and talented programs," she said. "Desegregation is not just about student assignment."
Sad. There is no doubt that some school districts maintain policies that amount to “de jure segregation.” In her report on Tuscaloosa’s schools, Nikole Hannah-Jones described the drawing of some district lines that seemed designed to keep white students out of all-black Central High School. Presumably, that procedure would be hard to justify under Brown.

It also may be that some black kids are denied “access to rigorous classes and gifted and talented programs” for inappropriate reasons. But it’s painful to see civil rights advocates straining to over-extend the term “segregation,” even the term “de jure segregation,” in the way found in that passage.

Next week, we’ll be looking at the “achievement gaps” which still obtain in our most reliable testing programs. Presumably, some black kids are being kept from gifted programs for inappropriate reasons. But many more are being held back because of low achievement.

It’s painful—it can be disgusting—to see “advocates” trying to wish such facts away. Speaking from her privileged aerie, Professor Perry played this same card in her ridiculous “Five Myths” feature.

D’Leisha Dent isn’t helped when The Atlantic says she “excels in school.” It’s time we stopped pretending about the real world and instead described our plan to improve it. (When it comes to low-income kids, we “progressives” rarely bother.)

We’ll look at these questions all next week. But in our various ivory towers, a lot of pampered, overpaid people like to pretend about the state of the world.

For the record, there’s much of interest in Maxwell’s report. We recommend the whole thing.

TWO WOMEN: Auletta falls for the second time!

TUESDAY, MAY 20, 2014

Part 2—How to compose a novel: Last night, Chris Hayes—the new, improved Hayes—was sounding off about the Jill Abramson matter.

If you ever watched the old Chris Hayes, you could see the improved body language. Sadly, you could also see the dumbness of the new language.

You could see the new, exciting way of framing a topic. To watch the whole segment, click here:
HAYES (5/19/14): The most brutal PR train wreck in America got even more train wreckier this weekend. What has become a “can’t look away,” acrimonious battle between recently deposed New York Times executive editor Jill Abramson and the person who deposed her, the Times’ publisher and family heir, Arthur “Pinch” Sulzberger. It keeps getting worse.

Other news outlets are furiously reporting on the Times. The Times is reporting on itself and Times employees are expressing support and dissent.


Joining me now, Emily Bazelon, senior editor at Slate, contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine, who knows Jill Abramson.

Emily, are you astounded at how ugly this entire thing has gotten? I just cannot believe, every day that passes, more leaks, more articles, more facts coming out. Sulzberger himself coming out to basically be like, “She was terrible.” It’s head-spinning. It’s gotten so bad and so public so fast.
Chris was giving us rubes our thrills, presumably as the suits wanted.

For better or worse, the train wreck seemed to get quite a bit less train wreckier during Hayes’ brief discussion with Bazelon.

Hayes was no longer reading from prompter. Soon, he seemed to agree with Bazelon—the astoundingly ugly train wreck has perhaps been overplayed:
HAYES: We have then seen, in the New York Times, David Carr, their media reporter, writing a column saying, “So I like Jill. My reporting, including interviews with senior people in newsroom, some of them women, backs up the conclusion of Sulzberger this was not about pay equity.” How do you make sense of this battle over whether pay equity was the issue?

BAZELON: I think David is right. I think the pay equity story is a sideshow and there was a lot of unrest and division at the New York Times, and discontent with having an editor who was really aggressive, brusque, whatever adjective you want to use.

It is also true that sometimes adjectives like that get used about women in a way that are different from men, but that doesn’t necessarily mean this was a sexist firing.

HAYES: So I think that is a really key point that everything seems over-determined here. It seems to me the possibility this is someone who had a whole lot of sexist expectations put on her and there were sort of sexist ways in which she was interpreted, and also had a manner that rubbed people the wrong way, and those two could actually both be true.

BAZELON: Yes, I think that’s right and to me it’s been important that we have not seen an uprising on the part of women of the New York Times.


BAZELON: There are a lot of women like me who are grateful to Jill. She was a tremendous promoter of women. But that doesn’t mean that people can’t see some of her weaknesses.

HAYES: Yes, Lydia Polgreen, who’s a deputy international editor, saying there has been no revolt. There have been many searching conversations, but no women’s revolt over Jill Abramson’s firing at the New York Times.
What happened to the can’t-look-away, head-spinning train wreck that Hayes “just cannot believe?” That train wreck seemed to exist on prompter, not in Hayes’ actual head.

At any rate, a funny thing happened during this interview. Bazelon and Hayes moved away from the idea that “pay equity” lay at the heart of this episode, in which “everything seems over-determined,” whatever that lingo means.

For ourselves, we have no idea why Arthur Sulzberger, who hired Abramson three years ago, decided to replace her. We don’t know how much she was being paid, or how her pay compared to that of her predecessor, Bill Keller.

We don’t know what Abramson thought about her level of pay. We don’t know what Sulzberger thought about her negotiations concerning pay.

Like almost everyone who has commented on this matter, we don’t know those things. We do know how the question of “pay equity” came center stage in the discussion of Abramson's plight.

Last night, Hayes and Bazelon moved away from “pay equity” as the reason for this dismissal. Quite plainly, though, this hypothesis came center stage through the error-strewn work of Ken Auletta, a high-status national journalist whose skin always strikes us as an ad for mud-packing Manhattan spas.

Soon after Abramson lost her job, Auletta went to work at The New Yorker’s site explaining the reasons for her dismissal. As is becoming increasingly clear, Auletta’s work on this topic has been extremely bad.

That said, his error-strewn work helps us see something important. It helps us see the way the news gets novelized in high-profile cases like this.

In his original May 14 post, Auletta told a story of a woman who got fired for being perceived as “pushy.”

In a strikingly slippery way, he put the magic word “pushy” in quotes, although he never said who was supposed to have uttered the word in this case. See our previous post.

The magic word “pushy” jumped directly to Salon’s headlines. It was featured in a much-publicized post by Abramson’s daughter.

Judged by journalistic norms, Auletta’s promotion of the word “pushy” was remarkably slippery. He also made a factual error in that May 14 post, as we will note below.

Then, in a May 15 post, Auletta offered this account of the way Abramson was getting underpaid. At this point, “pay equity” went through the roof—and a second factual error occurred:
AULETTA (5/15/14): Let’s look at some numbers I’ve been given: As executive editor, Abramson’s starting salary in 2011 was $475,000, compared to Keller’s salary that year, $559,000. Her salary was raised to $503,000, and—only after she protested—was raised again to $525,000. She learned that her salary as managing editor, $398,000, was less than that of the male managing editor for news operations, John Geddes. She also learned that her salary as Washington bureau chief, from 2000 to 2003, was a hundred thousand dollars less than that of her predecessor in that position, Phil Taubman.
That is terrible journalism, in a wide array of ways (see below). But as we noted yesterday, that highlighted passage contained an outright mistake:

Whatever his pay may or may not have been, Taubman was Abramson’s successor as Washington bureau chief, not her predecessor. This error tipped the scales in the direction of the emerging novel, in which Abramson had been massively underpaid as compared to relevant men.

As it turns out, Auletta had made an outright mistake about Geddes too. As the Washington Post’s Eric Wemple noted yesterday, this is what Auletta had written in his May 14 post:
AULETTA (5/14/14): As with any such upheaval, there’s a history behind it. Several weeks ago, I’m told, Abramson discovered that her pay and her pension benefits as both executive editor and, before that, as managing editor were considerably less than the pay and pension benefits of Bill Keller, the male editor whom she replaced in both jobs. “She confronted the top brass,” one close associate said, and this may have fed into the management’s narrative that she was “pushy,” a characterization that, for many, has an inescapably gendered aspect. Sulzberger is known to believe that the Times, as a financially beleaguered newspaper, needed to retreat on some of its generous pay and pension benefits; Abramson had also been at the Times for far fewer years than Keller, having spent much of her career at the Wall Street Journal, accounting for some of the pension disparity. Eileen Murphy, a spokeswoman for the Times, said that Jill Abramson’s total compensation as executive editor “was directly comparable to Bill Keller’s”—though it was not actually the same. I was also told by another friend of Abramson’s that the pay gap with Keller was only closed after she complained. But, to women at an institution that was once sued by its female employees for discriminatory practices, the question brings up ugly memories. Whether Abramson was right or wrong, both sides were left unhappy. A third associate told me, “She found out that a former deputy managing editor”—a man—“made more money than she did” while she was managing editor. “She had a lawyer make polite inquiries about the pay and pension disparities, which set them off.”
As Auletta has noted in his latest correction, that highlighted passage on May 14 referred to Geddes. Like the May 15 passage concerning Taubman, it was factually wrong. As noted above, Geddes was actually managing editor for news operations at the time in question, not a deputy managing editor.

That highlighted passage described a great injustice: Abramson, while a managing editor, was being paid less than a deputy managing editor!

Alas! In that May 14 post, Auletta was wrong about that. On May 15, he was wrong about Taubman too.

Question: Where does Auletta get all his misinformation? Why did he play such a slippery game concerning the magic word “pushy?” We can’t answer those questions, but anyone can see what was happening in his posts. A pleasing novel was being created, in which Abramson was name-called in a distinctive way and grossly underpaid as compared to males.

Whatever the actual truth may be, this was terrible journalism, of a familiar type. As a final note, let’s consider the hapless passage from Auletta’s May 15 post:
AULETTA (5/15/14): Let’s look at some numbers I’ve been given: As executive editor, Abramson’s starting salary in 2011 was $475,000, compared to Keller’s salary that year, $559,000. Her salary was raised to $503,000, and—only after she protested—was raised again to $525,000. She learned that her salary as managing editor, $398,000, was less than that of the male managing editor for news operations, John Geddes. She also learned that her salary as Washington bureau chief, from 2000 to 2003, was a hundred thousand dollars less than that of her successor in that position, Phil Taubman.

Murphy cautioned that one shouldn’t look at salary but, rather, at total compensation, which includes, she said, any bonuses, stock grants, and other long-term incentives. This distinction appears to be the basis of Sulzberger’s comment that Abramson was not earning “significantly less.” But it is hard to know how to parse this without more numbers from the Times. For instance, did Abramson’s compensation pass Keller’s because the Times’ stock price rose? Because her bonuses came in up years and his in down years? Because she received a lump-sum long-term payment and he didn’t?

And, if she was wrong, why would Mark Thompson agree, after her protest, to sweeten her compensation from $503,000 to $525,000? (Murphy said, on behalf of Thompson, that Abramson “also raised other issues about her compensation and the adequacy of her pension arrangements, which had nothing to do with the issue of comparability. It was to address these other issues that we suggested an increase in her compensation.”)
Would you hire a college senior who performed journalism that way? Consider these elements:

“Let’s look at some numbers I’ve been given.”

Auletta didn’t feel the need to explain who had given him the numbers or how he knew they were accurate. In this way, the most basic factual question was simply ignored.

For ourselves, we have no idea if those numbers are accurate. Assuming they are for the sake of this exercise, let’s continue assessing Auletta’s work:

“As executive editor, Abramson’s starting salary in 2011 was $475,000, compared to Keller’s salary that year, $559,000.”

In this passage, Auletta compares Abramson’s first-year salary in the executive editor post to Keller’s eighth-year salary in the post. Would such questions of seniority typically affect such salaries?

Like you, we have no idea. Auletta simply let this obvious question pass.

“Her salary was raised to $503,000, and—only after she protested—was raised again to $525,000.”

When was her salary raised to $503,000? After that, what did she protest about, and why was her salary raised that second time? The most obvious facts are omitted here. Whatever the truth of these matters might be, this is less a work of journalism than it is the gauzy world of fairy tale.

At this point, Auletta committed his groaner about Taubman, even as he corrected the previous day’s groaner about Geddes. He then moved ahead to this statement:

“But it is hard to know how to parse this without more numbers from the Times.”

We can’t “parse” anything about this at all until we get accurate numbers. Does Auletta have any accurate numbers? Like you, we have no way of knowing. Why should we assume his numbers are correct when he committed those factual groaners about both Geddes and Taubman?

Finally, pray for The New Yorker’s baby:

“And, if she was wrong, why would Mark Thompson agree, after her protest, to sweeten her compensation from $503,000 to $525,000?”

Truly, that’s just sad. Assuming that this “sweetening” did occur, there could be a thousand different explanations for it. Auletta gives parenthetical treatment to the Times’ denial of the pay equity hypothesis. As readers, we still don’t even know when these alleged salary bumps occurred.

In truth, Auletta’s work hasn’t been journalism. Through his errors and his slippery insinuations, he created a familiar, high interest novel, built on a familiar, high-interest theme.

His suggestions and claims may be perfectly accurate. But how is a reader to know?

By last night, Bazelon and Hayes were drifting away from the “pay equity” explanation. But at the outset of this high-profile story, this theme served Team Abramson’s interests, making an instant martyr of its embattled principal.

A familiar story had been crafted about her plight, built around a highly familiar theme. In truth, the plight of our second, younger woman was treated in a similar way.

At ProPublica, D’Leisha Dent was fashioned as a martyr to a familiar old nemesis, “segregation.” This made a pleasing morality tale.

In many ways, ProPublica’s reporting and advocacy were accurate and justified. But in the process, the astonishing academic profile of Central High’s senior class was largely disappeared.

If D’Leisha Dent can’t get into college, what in the world is going on with the lower ninety percent of her senior class? To tell you the truth, ProPublica didn’t seem to care a whole lot about that. Neither did The Atlantic.

Can we talk? D’Leisha Dent will not be discussed on the Chris Hayes program. Her plight will not be examined on your TV machine.

One of our two women this week is extremely high-status. Last night, Hayes and Bazelon pondered her plight in some detail.

D’Leisha Dent is not high status. In our view, her plight was novelized a bit too, at which point it disappeared!

Tomorrow: Abramson and Howell Raines

What happened to our weekend series?

MONDAY, MAY 19, 2014

Incompleteness suspended: What happened to our “Weekend Wonkster” series this weekend?

Mainly, two things:

Don’t worry! We’ve continued to take delight in Professor Goldstein’s wonderfully bad explanations! The analysts work with the book every morning. Most days, they chuckle aloud!

(It’s hard not to chuckle at the famous phrase, “the set of all sets not members of themselves.” The fact that people are still discussing that muddled concept—we’ll admit it, it just makes us laugh!)

That said, the book is so full of bad explanation that we weren’t sure where to turn next. (For our last report, click this.) When all explanation is murky and bad, it’s hard to find a foothold for further exploration.

Also this: It’s hard to do posts seven days of the week. One Saturday post doesn’t hurt at all. But oddly enough, if it’s followed by even one Sunday post, our brain just never cleans out.

We may return to our quest this weekend. We won’t try to do two days.

On the brighter side, this: One of our three favorite movies, My Brilliant Career, popped up on our free On Demand this weekend. We’re always surprised by the brilliant concision of its show-us, don’t tell-us, script.

We’re surprised by that film every time! By the splash in the pond, then by the duet. By that beautiful pillow fight scene.