Public school watch: Middle-class black and Hispanic kids!

THURSDAY, MAY 19, 2016

What holds some kids back:
We still have a long way to go with Motoko Rich's recent report about low-income, low-SES schools and the new study from Stanford.

For today, let's briefly consider the most substantial part of her report. What kinds of disadvantages might black and Hispanic kids face in school, even if they come from middle-class families?

Rich discusses that here:
RICH (5/3/16): What emerges clearly in the data is the extent to which race and class are inextricably linked, and how that connection is exacerbated in school settings.

Not only are black and Hispanic children more likely to grow up in poor families, but middle-class black and Hispanic children are also much more likely than poor white children to live in neighborhoods and attend schools with high concentrations of poor students.

These schools can face a myriad of challenges.
They tend to have more difficulty recruiting and keeping the most skilled teachers, and classes are more likely to be disrupted by violent incidents or the emotional fallout from violence in the neighborhood. These schools often offer fewer high-level classes such as Advanced Placement courses, and the parents have fewer resources to raise extra money that can provide enhanced arts programs and facilities.

“If a school is in a neighborhood that is highly segregated serving students of color and under-resourced, that is going to have a devastating impact on those who are experiencing a crisis,” said Thena Robinson Mock, project director of the Ending the Schoolhouse to Jailhouse Track program sponsored by the Advancement Project, a civil rights group. “But the others who may not be suffering that crisis at home are also going to suffer from not having enough resources or high-quality teachers. So it will impact the entire school community if those factors are at play.”
That's a very brief discussion. In at least one minor way, it doesn't quite make sense.

Rich is discussing a study which encompasses grades 3-8. As far as we know, there are no "Advanced Placement courses" at these grade levels. That said, many elementary and middle schools have versions of "gifted and talented" programs. If a capable child attends a school which doesn't provide such classes, he or she may thereby be disadvantaged.

That's a relatively minor quibble about Rich's error-ridden report. That passage does describe a potentially serious problem.

Schools with lots of kids from low-income, low-literacy backgrounds "may face a myriad of challenges" as compared to other schools which largely serve middle-class kids, Rich sensibly reports. This may help explain the depressing achievement gap we laid out in this earlier report—the achievement gap which exists between lower-income white kids and higher-income black kids.

That particular achievement gap ought to be quite dispiriting. As far as we know, the New York Times has never reported that gap.

Please note—Rich seems to put her thumb on the scale a tad, even in this brief passage. By the time she's quoting Mock, Mock seems to be making an assumption: "If a school is in a neighborhood that is highly segregated serving students of color," Mock almost seems to assume, at as quoted, that the school will in fact be "under-resourced."

To what extent is that true? You rarely see such topics discussed in the New York Times. But then, the Times has so little regard for the nation's low-income and minority kids that it refuses to let its readers know about the large score gains these kids have achieved in recent decades. This represents a truly amazing information embargo.

The Times pretends to care about these issues, but it seems like pretense to us. As she continues, Rich almost seems to rope Professor Reardon into her pandering conduct:
RICH (continuing directly): In some communities where both blacks and whites or Hispanics and whites came from similar socioeconomic backgrounds, academic gaps persisted. Mr. Reardon said that educators in these schools may subliminally–or consciously in some cases–track white students into gifted courses while assigning black and Hispanic students to less rigorous courses.
Is that true? Do public school educators "subliminally–or consciously in some cases–track white students into gifted courses while assigning black and Hispanic students to less rigorous courses?"

(If Reardon is being paraphrased accurately, we assume that he was describing unequal treatment of equally talented students.)

Do public school educators "subliminally–or consciously in some cases" disadvantage talented black and Hispanic students? Presumably, yes, that's true—after all, everything is happening somewhere to some degree.

That said, Rich has Reardon making a very dramatic charge. We'll only restate our point:

You rarely see the New York Times stoop to discus such important issues or allegations. The Times panders extremely well on the rare occasion, but it ignores the lives and interests of black kids the vast bulk of the time.

Today happens to be one of the days when the Times devoted some space to a related issue. We refer to Kevin Carey's Upshot report about an important question—the amount of funding which goes to schools serving low-income kids.

Carey's report takes us very deep into the weeds concerning this topic. It's a topic to which the New York Times pays very little attention.

We'll return to Carey's report next week. With regard to Rich's report, we'll also look at some of the communities where "academic gaps persisted" even though, in Rich's assessment, the community's minority and white kids "came from similar socioeconomic backgrounds."

In the third interactive graphic accompanying Rich's report, the Times claims to identify 38 such school districts from around the nation. Some of the selections strike us as rather strange, but in theory the topic is very important and deserves a full discussion.

What happens to low-income, low-SES kids in our public schools? The question is deeply important. We know of no reason to think that the New York Times gives a flying felafel, though it panders well on the rare occasions when it stoops to discuss such kids.


  1. "also going to suffer from not having enough resources or high-quality teachers. "

    In many districts, the quality of a teacher is defined by the performance of his or her students. In that case, there is no way to measure the quality of teachers in poorer districts without being circular. Teachers in poor districts with many low-performing students will receive lower evaluations (because student performance is a large part of their evaluation) so they will inevitably be judged as worse teachers than those in high SES schools with high performing students.

    In The Educator, the magazine of the CTA (California Teacher's Association), one highly rated, experienced teacher described how her teaching evaluations plummeted dramatically simply because she changed jobs, going from a suburban school to an inner city school. She said she hadn't changed her teaching ability, just changed schools and students.

    This makes it difficult to determine whether poor schools have worse teachers.

  2. Gifted programs have the same difficulty identifying gifted minority students as colleges and universities have identifying minority applicants who will do well in college.

    Gifted programs have tended to use a combination of teacher evaluations, test scores, and other qualitative evidence. Teachers can be biased and may overlook gifted minority students, they may score lower on tests while still being gifted, and they may not have access to resources that would permit them to excel outside the classroom in hobbies and interests that attract adult attention. So they are more easily overlooked. There doesn't have to be a subconscious bias involved. White teachers can overlook minority giftedness simply because they are unfamiliar with minority culture, or because kids are not relaxed enough with them to demonstrate their unusual abilities.

    There now exist criteria for identifying minority gifted students, if districts are motivated to find and use them. If districts instead rely solely on teacher recommendations and test scores, they will miss them.

    Schools have been underfunded across the board. First to go are resources for gifted programs. If a program makes it through budget cuts, it is not seeking to find more students but trying to fit the number identified into the resources at hand, trying to limit or discourage identification of more students. Many white parents will advocate for their gifted child but black parents are less likely to do so, not least because of ambivalence about the labeling associated with gifted programs.

    1. Please provide a link to a source on "criteria" now available.

    2. Please provide a link to a source on "criteria" now available.

    3. Contact the National Association for Gifted Children.

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  5. Did this post actually say a single thing -- other than repeat the rant that the Times doesn't care about poor or black kids several times and lay down a few teases?

    1. Presumably, yes, that's true.

      Tomorrow, later Wittgenstein in the good and evil Gardens of Journalist County.

      Plus we'll finish our ruminations on Bridges Rachel Maddow won't jump off.