ONCE AGAIN, THAT'S RICH: Take the Berkeley pink-dot challenge!

THURSDAY, MAY 12, 2016

Part 4—Incompetence at the Times:
Let's start with a slightly puzzling question.

Our question concerns Motoko Rich, the New York Times education reporter.

Question: Where did Rich get the idea that Evanston, Berkeley and Chapel Hill are among the nation's "wealthiest communities?" By paragraph 4 of her recent report about a new study of public schools, Rich was advancing that idea, which is just basically false.

She also said it was "puzzling" to find that public schools in such wealthy communities would feature large achievement gaps. As we explained yesterday, the large gaps in those particular districts just aren't puzzling at all.

To peruse her report, click here.

It's amazing to think that any education reporter could be clueless enough to make such weird remarks. In this case, the reporter works for the New York Times, our nation's most famous newspaper.

Tomorrow, we'll review the blinkered way Rich explained the large achievement gaps found in those school districts. We'll also review her explanations of other important phenomena, including the relative under-performance of our black middle-class kids.

We'll review a substantial list of topics. For today, we'll stick that question: Why did Rich think that those three cities were among the nation's "wealthiest communities?"

We'll take an educated guess. We'll guess that Rich's confusion stems from the second interactive graphic which accompanies her report on-line.

That second graphic is truly fascinating. It involves a wealth of information, but only if its contents are understood. Toward that end, let's note that the graphic in question bears these titles:
Parents' socioeconomic status
Chart shows districts with at least 100 white, 100 black and 100 Hispanic students per grade.
To review this material, just click here. Scroll down to the second graphic.

Please note. That second graphic (or chart) only includes a certain type of school district. As you can see by looking at the Times' first graphic, a large majority of the nation's schools districts aren't included in that second chart.

That includes many of the nation's highest-scoring districts. Many such districts don't have a hundred black kids and a hundred Hispanic kids in every grade. For that reason, such high-scoring, high-SES districts aren't included in that second graphic.

If you don't understand that fact, that second graphic may cause you to reach some bogus conclusions. That said, also note this:

That second graphic concerns the socioeconomic status of the parents in that limited number of districts. As we noted yesterday, that includes the percentage of students from two-parent homes and the educational attainment of those parents.

The graphic doesn't involve a measure of family income alone. It also measures family structure and parents educational attainment.

These concepts may have proven too complex for Rich and her editors. More specifically, that graphic may have led Rich to think that Berkeley and Chapel Hill are among the nation's "wealthiest communities."

Here's why we'd offer that as a best guess:

Go ahead—look at that second graphic! You're reviewing a rather limited subset of the nation's school districts.

You're also looking at the achievement levels, and the socioeconomic status, of three populations within each of those districts. For each district, you're reviewing the achievement levels and SES of its white kids, its black kids and its Hispanic kids.

Look in the upper right-hand corner of that graphic—the high-achievement, high-SES part of the chart. Start moving over those little pink dots, little pink dots which represent the white kids in various districts.

You'll find that, among that chart's limited set of districts, Evanston, Berkeley and Chapel Hill are three of the five highest-scoring districts. Rather, you'll see that's true for the white kids in those districts, for the kids who are represented by those little pink dots.

You'll also see that children in those three school districts seem to have the highest socioeconomic status, as compared to the children in all the other districts. But that too is a measure of the socioeconomic status of the white students in Berkeley, Chapel Hill and Evanston. And they're only being compared to the other groups of kids in that limited set of school districts.

(Palo Alto is much wealthier than Berkeley. It isn't included in that second graphic. Its schools don't have enough black kids.)

Now, we'll take a wild guess! At some point, Rich and her editors began noodling around, reviewing those little pink dots. They saw Evanston, Berkeley and Chapel Hill way up in that high-scoring, high-status upper right-hand corner. They thought this meant that those three communities are among the nation's wealthiest.

You'd have to be extremely unskilled to make that deduction. For starters, you'd have to miss the fact that most of the nation's wealthiest communities aren't included in that second graphic at all.

You'd have to think that the horizontal axis on that chart is a measure of wealth alone, rather than SES, including family structure and parental educational attainment.

(Someone at the New York Times did in fact seem to think that. Note the blurb above that graphic. It refers to "economic disparities," full stop. In that way, it eliminates the other factors we've mentioned.)

Most importantly, you'd have to ignore the rest of the graphic, where the little green dots and the little blue dots show that black and Hispanic kids in those districts enjoy vastly lower socioeconomic status than their white counterparts.

It's hard to make that many mistakes about something as simple as this. But history suggests that Rich and her editors have often been able to do so.

At any rate, do yourself a favor today. Perform the following act:

Go to that second graphic. Hover over Berkeley's little pink dot, the dot in the upper right-hand corner, the dot which represents the district's white kids.

When you see the location of that pink dot, you'll see that Berkeley's white kids enjoy a very high SES, at least compared to all the other groups of kids in that limited set of school districts.

That said, the graphic will instantly direct your eye over to Berkeley's little green dot, the little green dot which represents the district's black kids. That dot will show you that Berkeley's black kids enjoy a very low socioeconomic status—lower even than that enjoyed by the black kids in nearby Oakland!

(Go ahead—just noodle around. According to that graphic, black kids in Oakland have a higher SES than their peers in Berkeley! So do black kids in San Francisco, L.A. and Little Rock.)

Go ahead! As you look at that display, consider the giant gap in socioeconomic status between the good decent white kids and the good decent black kids in the Berkeley schools. Then ask yourself how an education reporter, with assistance from an experienced editor, could have found it "puzzling" that the Berkeley Unified School District features large achievement gaps.

No really! Ask yourself how such nonsense happens! How it can be that the New York Times constantly bungles in such ways when it reports, or pretends to report, on the nation's low-income schools and the good decent kids who attend them.

If you move your cursor around a bit more, you'll quickly see the same pattern emerge for Chapel Hill and Evanston. Also for Atlanta, another school district whose large achievement gaps seemed to puzzle Rich.

(She chalked them up to "segregation." Go ahead! Look at the size of Atlanta's gaps in basic SES!)

We'll leave you today with a simple question. In what world does a major education reporter find Berkeley's achievement gaps "puzzling?"

Also, in what world does a major education reporter think that Berkeley and Chapel Hill are accurately described as two of the nation's "wealthiest communities?"

The world in question would be that of the New York Times, a tremendously incompetent newspaper aimed at, and written by, members of the upper class. The Times reports the gaps and disappears the gains, and it constantly bungles even when it tries to do that.

It also sifts its narratives. Tomorrow, we'll have to move quickly to help you consider all the narrative-sifting which occurred as this incompetent newspaper tried to "explain" the achievement gaps which still exist in our schools.

Again and again, the New York Times presents a bungled, sifted discussion when it turns to topics like this. Our good decent kids are treated badly when these finest elites from the finest schools behave in this tired old fashion.

Tomorrow: All the news (and narratives) fit for you to hear

A tale of two school districts: According to the Times' first graphic, the nation's highest-scoring school district is that of Lexington, Mass.

Across grades 3-8, its students average 3.8 grade levels above the national average.

(Like most of the highest-scoring districts, Lexington isn't included in the Times' second graphic. It doesn't have enough black or Hispanic kids, although it does have some.)

The lowest-scoring semi-large district is that of Syracuse, New York. Its kids average 2.5 grade levels below the national average. (Detroit averages 2.3 grade levels below average.)

Once again, our question:

The "achievement gap" between those two districts is 6.1 grade levels. Common Core or otherwise, what kind of grade-level "learning standards" will make sense for both groups of kids?


  1. "Hillary Clinton for months has downplayed the FBI investigation into her private email server and practices as a mere “security inquiry.”

    But when asked Wednesday by FNC about Clinton's characterization of the bureau's probe, FBI Director James Comey said he doesn’t know what "security inquiry" means -- adding, “We’re conducting an investigation. … That’s what we do.”

  2. The difficulties Rich encountered interpreting these graphs occur with all graphic presentations, especially when lifted out of the context of a report that would have explained what the measures were, how the data was selected, and so on. It is an important service when experts clarify misunderstandings, as Somerby does today and Drum does frequently on his blog.

    Lexington is adjacent to Cambridge so it has the same demographics as Berkeley. Berkeley is hemmed in by hills that limit the spread of educated university-connected families to other communities, concentrating them in one place. Geography matters too.

  3. The shot heard 'round the world was fired in Lexington.

  4. Why do they omit Asians? E.g., Palo Alto may not have 100 blacks and 100 Hispanics in every grade, but it probably has 100 Asians. Asians are significant part of the population. They're easily identifiable, just as blacks and Hispanics are. They were traditionally discriminated against. So, why don't they get separate mention?

    I think it's because Asian students do so well. The "gap" between Asians and whites would go in the other direction. Mentioning this point would indicate that the performance of blacks and Hispanics may not be due to prejudice and discrimination.

    1. David, you believe what you want to believe. In terms of immigrant families, you need to look at what their circumstances were before they immigrated and why/how they came to the US. Asian students include the large influx of Vietnamese refugees (termed "boat people") who came without money, after spending years in Hong Kong or another country before being admitted to the US. They came without wealth and after enduring considerable hardship. Those kids are not earning straight A's and high test scores. They are struggling just as Hispanic students do when they learn English as a second (or third or fourth) language and their parents have no money. If you look at average test scores for Asian students in Garden Grove, CA they will be very low, but there won't be black or Hispanic or white students to compare them to because they are living in communities almost entirely Vietnamese and Cambodian.

      You instead ignorantly perpetuate the super-minority stereotype. Someone who claims to be an actuary should know better than this. Your idea of Asian is confined to those recruited on special visas to work in tech sectors, not those who come here as refugees and have the same problems of poverty as Hispanic and black families and the same low test scores (averaged with and thus ameliorated by the scores of more fortunate Asian kids).

    2. Actually, 8:27, my idea of Asian students in Palo Alto comes from my children's friends and classmates when they were students in Palo Alto.

      But, if you're right, 8:27 -- if Asians have the same problems as Hispanics and blacks -- that makes the exclusion of Asians from consideration in this sort of study even more mysterious.

    3. It isn't mysterious. There need to be 100 Asian students in each grade level in order to be considered in the study. There were not enough Asian students to be able to include them.

  5. Please note. Only one comment on topic. Tomorrow we'll review a whole range of topics, including the blatant error Bob reprinted and the length of this series. For today we'll stick with a basic question, why does nobody comment on the topic at hand?

    We'll take an educated guess. Bob's readers are mostly liberal. Liberal people care only about R bombs and denouncing the other tribe. If you don't understand that fact you may just reach the wrong conclusion that nobody comments because they all agree Bob is an absolute genius with a blog whose only appropriate comment would be "Amen!"

    Not really! Ask yourself how such nonsense happens!
    Because liberals are lazy and dumb they miss the obvious.

    We'll take a wild guess. It goes to show how right he was when he says nobody cares about black kids.

    Bob. Still original. Unlike others (Did we hear you say "Uncle"?) he has never been captured.

    Unpenned. Uncaged.

    Our own Free Range Intellectual Rooster.

    Crowing at the crack of doom.