Part 3—Regarded as puzzling by Rich: It's a very important fact. In recent decades, black kids and Hispanic kids have made major gains in reading and math on academic achievement tests.
We refer to their scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (the NAEP), our most reliable domestic testing program.
The gains by "minority" kids have been large. Attempting to preach to the unconcerned, we've catalogued the data time after time.
The gains have been quite large. In a slightly rational world, this would be seen as very good news. But for reasons that remain unexplained, you essentially never encounter this fact in newspapers like the New York Times.
Like other major news orgs, the New York Times reports the gaps, but never discusses the gains.
In 2013, Stanford professor Sean Reardon did chronicle some of the gains in a lengthy New York Times essay. Lustily, the analysts cheered this unusual act.
Last week, the New York Times tried to report Professor Reardon's massive new study of achievement patterns in American schools. We thought the effort went poorly.
Lead reporter Motoko Rich has been a journalist for several decades. That said, she only became an education reporter in 2012.
In our view, it shows. In our view, Rich displays a constant lack of savvy—a lack of savvy which happily coexists with the Times' favored narratives about public schools. She began last Tuesday's report in the way shown below.
Already, we thought she was perhaps possibly taking some liberties. For the record, a type of error has already been made in that hard-copy headline:
RICH (5/3/16): In Schools Nationwide, Money Predicts SuccessWe don't know why that parenthetical remark appeared at the end of paragraph 3. It would have made more sense at the end of the previous paragraph.
We've long known of the persistent and troublesome academic gap between white students and their black and Hispanic peers in public schools.
We've long understood the primary reason, too: A higher proportion of black and Hispanic children come from poor families. A new analysis of reading and math test score data from across the country confirms just how much socioeconomic conditions matter.
Children in the school districts with the highest concentrations of poverty score an average of more than four grade levels below children in the richest districts. (Reliable estimates were not available for Asian-Americans.)
Meanwhile, why weren't reliable estimates available for Asian-Americans? It would have made sense to explain that point.
In comments at several sites, we've seen the inevitable claim that Asian-American kids were eliminated from Reardon's study because their relative success in school undermines preferred liberal narratives. Why aren't there data for such kids? It would have made sense to explain.
Set all that to the side! We already wondered if Rich was taking liberties at the start of paragraph 2. This question came to mind:
Do we know that "the primary reason" for our racial achievement gaps involves the income levels of minority families? We don't know if that's true.
Granted, that's an imprecise claim. But when we read that statement by Rich, we thought of some unfortunate facts from the most recent NAEP data.
Below, you see terrible, horrible facts. Whatever may explain these facts, they represent the part of the record involving the gaps, not the gains.
By a very rough rule of thumb, ten points on the NAEP scale is often compared to one academic year—to our "grade level." In this presentation, "lower-income kids" are those who qualify for the federal lunch program. "Higher-income kids" are those who don't qualify:
Average achievement, Grade 8 math, 2015 NAEPIt's an ugly fact about the gaps as opposed to the gains. On these, our most reliable tests, lower-income white kids tend to outscore higher-income black kids.
White higher-income kids: 298.32
White lower-income kids: 275.94
Black higher-income kids: 273.58
Black lower-income kids: 255.82
That's a horrible fact; we'll guess the reasons are varied. In the Times, you'll never learn about the very large gains. But you'll also never learn that the gaps include data this ugly.
Beyond that, you'll only hear about certain possible reasons for our very large gaps. In truth, the New York Times devotes very little space to the lives and interests of black kids. Such little space as it does devote will be narrowly sifted.
The data shown above represent a national tragedy. For starters, they represent a lot of unhappiness on the part of a whole lot of good decent kids—good kids who have an unpleasant, relatively unproductive time in their public schools.
Needless to say, those data also represent a tremendous loss of potential. What are the reasons for this waste? In Rich's report, you heard speculations about one class of reasons, while others were ignored.
Uh-oh! Motoko Rich is neither experienced, nor especially savvy, concerning the public schools. She writes for a big, upper-class business venture which doesn't much care about black kids and panders to its upper-class readers and to establishment narratives.
Before we're done this week, we'll look at Rich's fleeting attempts to explain our very large gaps. Today, though, let's explore the type of cluelessness which dominates Times education reporting—education reporting at a paper which doesn't seem to require experience or savvy from its education reporters.
As Rich continued, she instantly went off the rails. If you actually care about the interests of our so-called black kids, you should be furious when you see the Times perform in a manner so scripted and so defiantly clueless:
RICH (continuing directly): Even more sobering, the analysis shows that the largest gaps between white children and their minority classmates emerge in some of the wealthiest communities, such as Berkeley, Calif.; Chapel Hill, N.C.; and Evanston, Ill.At this point, we're less than six paragraphs in. Already, Rich is deep in the woods.
The study, by Sean F. Reardon, Demetra Kalogrides and Kenneth Shores of Stanford, also reveals large academic gaps in places like Atlanta and Menlo Park, Calif., which have high levels of segregation in the public schools.
Why racial achievement gaps were so pronounced in affluent school districts is a puzzle raised by the data...
For starters, ask yourself this. Are Berkeley, Chapel Hill and Evanston really "some of the wealthiest communities" in the country?
To be honest, no, they aren't. There are various ways to measure a community's wealth; household income, family income, and per capita income are three. But by none of measures are those communities among the nation's wealthiest.
They do exceed the national average in all those measures. That said, Chapel Hill and Berkeley also exceed the national average in their poverty rates, with Evanston not far behind.
Below, you see Berkeley's poverty rate, as compared to five near-by communities. We're working with the Census Bureau's current estimates:
Poverty rates, six California communitiesOrinda is a wealthy community right next door to Berkeley. Its median household income is almost three times that of Berkeley. When you look at those poverty rates, is it "puzzling" to think that Berkeley's achievement gaps might exceed those in Orinda?
San Francisco: 13.3%
San Jose: 11.9%
Marin County: 8.8%
Palo Alto: 5.3%
For the record, Chapel Hill's poverty rate stands at 21.7 percent. Nationally, the poverty rate is 15.6 percent. Are we still inclined to call Chapel Hill one of our "wealthiest communities?" Times reporter, please!
Why did Rich think that Berkeley, Chapel Hill and Evanston could sensibly be described as "some of the wealthiest communities?" To tell you the truth, we have an idea. It's based on one of the Times' interactive graphics, but it takes us deep into the weeds.
We may get there tomorrow! At any rate, are those cities three of our wealthiest communities? Basically, no, they aren't. Nor is that the way they're described in the report from the Stanford Graduate School of Education which announced Professor Reardon's new study.
Jonathan Rabinovitz wrote the report; he's a communications official with Stanford's Graduate School of Ed. He specifically mentioned Berkeley and them, but this is the way he described them:
RABINOVITZ (4/29/16): Reardon and colleagues...identify large white‐black achievement gaps in such major school districts as Atlanta; Auburn City, Alabama; Oakland, California; Tuscaloosa, Alabama; Charleston, South Carolina; and Washington, D.C. They also find significant black-white gaps in a number of smaller school districts that are home to major universities: Berkeley, California; Chapel Hill, North Carolina; Charlottesville, Virginia; Evanston, Illinois; and University City, Missouri.Please. As anyone but a New York Times reporter would have expected, Berkeley, Chapel Hill and them were described as sites "of smaller school districts that are home to major universities."
Is it really "puzzling" to think that such communities might have especially large achievement gaps? On face, it isn't puzzling at all! That leads us back to the problem with that New York Times headline: "In Schools Nationwide, Money Predicts Success."
That headline isn't false. It also doesn't capture the scope of the Stanford study, which compares achievement patterns to socioeconomic advantage, not to economic advantage alone.
In this paper, Professor Reardon describes the range of factors his study attempts to correlate with academic performance. "I use six measures of the socioeconomic composition of families living in a district with children enrolled in public schools," he writes; "1) median family income; 2) percent of adults with a bachelor’s degree or higher degree; 3) poverty rate; 4) unemployment rate; 5) SNAP eligibility rate; 6) the percent of families headed by a single parent."
Reardon isn't comparing academic achievement to measures of income alone. He also considers how many families in a school district are headed by a single parent, along with the "percent[age] of adults with a bachelor’s degree or higher degree."
Please. Inevitably, a school district like Chapel Hill's will have an unusual number of children from two-professor, two-doctorate homes. This provides them with a large educational advantage, even aside from the normal degree of advantage which would be associated with above-average family income.
Is it "puzzling" when a community like Berkeley has large achievement gaps? Unless you're an education reporter for the Times, it's hard to imagine why.
Berkeley is home to a black population with a 29.2 poverty rate. It's also home to a white population which actually is well-off. Beyond that, it presumably includes a healthy dollop of the one- or two-professor families whose children come to school with increased educational advantage.
Why would a competent reporter find that city's large achievement gaps "puzzling?" A competent writer wouldn't, but this is the New York Times, a puzzling paper whose puzzling work tends to be especially sad when it pretends to discuss the nation's public schools.
Welcome to the world of the Times! Somehow, Rich got it into her head that Berkeley and Chapel Hill are among our wealthiest communities. She said it was puzzling that districts like those would have large achievement gaps.
And yes—she was discussing Chapel Hill when she made that puzzling remark. Tomorrow, we'll look at the way she sought to explain Chapel Hill's achievement gaps as she continued in paragraph 6. From there, we'll move on to other key questions about Reardon's new study, questions Rich dealt with in standardized drive-by fashion.
For us, the bottom line frequently comes to this: the New York Times doesn't seem to care a great deal about the lives and interests of the nation's black kids. The paper doesn't seem to care about such kids, except to the extent that they can be used to spoon-feed a standard set of narratives to the Times' underfed readers.
Tomorrow: Explaining Chapel Hill—and rushing past Union City