Public schools: Motoko Rich's report to date!

MONDAY, MAY 16, 2016

Further plans for the week:
In this morning's column, Paul Krugman tells us something we won't learn from watching cable news—or, most likely, from reading news reports in his own newspaper.

Candidate Clinton proposed an ambitious plan last week! That said, nobody cares:
KRUGMAN (5/16/16): In January, both Democratic candidates declared their support for a program that would provide 12 weeks of paid leave to care for newborns and other family members. And last week, while the news media was focused on Donald Trump’s imaginary friend, I mean imaginary spokesman, Hillary Clinton announced an ambitious plan to improve both the affordability and quality of U.S. child care.

This was an important announcement, even if it was drowned out by the ugliness and nonsense of a campaign that is even uglier and more nonsensical than usual.
For child-care reform is the kind of medium-size, incremental, potentially politically doable—but nonetheless extremely important—initiative that could well be the centerpiece of a Clinton administration. So what’s the plan?
"We don’t have all the details yet, but the outline seems pretty clear," Krugman says. If you want to know what Clinton proposed, you can click right here.

Go ahead—click and read! You won't be reading about that ambitious plan pretty much anywhere else. Truth to tell, nobody cares. That kind of reporting is dead.

Krugman's mention made us think of Motoko Rich's recent report in the New York Times about achievement patterns in our public schools. As we noted all last week, Rich's report features some strange presentations and some puzzling errors. At the same time, we think it provides an interesting road map to the narratives the Times likes to follow when discussing, or pretending to discuss, the nation's public schools.

We'll consider additional parts of Rich's report as the week proceeds. For today, let's offer a bit of an overview theory of the strangeness which pervaded her report.

Our theory will start with an obvious fact. The New York Times displays little real interest in low-income kids, or with exploring their plight in our low-income schools.

The Times rarely bothers exploring such topics. Perhaps for that reason, it tends to put its thumb on the scale in certain ways on the rare occasions when it does.

According to our emerging theory, the newspaper tends to overcompensate for its gross indifference. When it does discuss low-income schools, it tends to puts its thumb on the scales, ginning up a sense of grievance on behalf of low-income parents.

This tends to reinforce the idea that New York Times is a caring newspaper—a caring newspaper serving subscribers who are caring liberals.

This pattern obtains in the peculiar part of Rich's report which we reviewed last Friday. In the early passage shown below, Rich denigrates the kinds of academic help kids from high-SES families typically get from their parents.

This passage is peculiar work. It's built around the disappearing of several basic facts:
RICH (5/3/16): [T]he 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.

The study, by Sean F. Reardon, Demetra Kalogrides and Kenneth Shores of Stanford, also reveals large academic gaps in places like Atlanta, which has a high level of segregation in the public schools.

Why racial achievement gaps were so pronounced in affluent school districts is a puzzling question raised by the data.
Part of the answer might be that in such communities, students and parents from wealthier families are constantly competing for ever more academic success. As parents hire tutors, enroll their children in robotics classes and push them to solve obscure math problems, those children keep pulling away from those who can’t afford the enrichment.

“Our high-end students who are coming in are scoring off the charts,” said Jeff Nash, executive director of community relations for the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools.


The wealthier students tend to come from families where, “let’s face it, both the parents are Ph.D.s, and that kid, no matter what happens in the school, is pressured from kindergarten to succeed,” Mr. Nash said. “So even though our minority students are outscoring minority students in other districts near us, there is still a bigger gap here because of that.”
Truth to tell, Reardon's study doesn't "show that the largest gaps between white children and their minority classmates emerge in some of the wealthiest communities." Our wealthiest communities tend to have so few minority kids that they fall outside the range of Reardon's study.

Berkeley, Chapel Hill and Evanston actually aren't among the nation's wealthiest communities. Meanwhile, their large achievement gaps correspond to an obvious factor—the large gaps in SES between the white kids and the minority kids in those school districts.

On their face, nothing is "puzzling" about the achievement gaps in those school districts. The same is true of the large achievement gaps in Atlanta, as we noted on Saturday.

There too, the large achievement gaps correspond to large gaps in SES. Rather than simply saying so, Rich seemed to attribute the achievement gaps in Atlanta to "segregation" of some unspecified kind.

In the broader sweep of the passage we've posted, Rich paints a jaundiced portrait of the ways in which high-SES parents introduce their children to the culture of literacy. She portrays this time-honored culture in a highly derogatory way.

According to Rich, "wealthier families are constantly competing for ever more academic success," thereby creating those achievement gaps. Children are "pressured from kindergarten to succeed." Parents "push them to solve obscure math problems" in this drive to succeed.

In Rich's jaundiced portrait, parents aren't reading to their kids, answering their questions and encouraging them to reason. Rich almost makes it sound like the nation's high-SES families should stop engaging in the pressurized conduct which helps their children advance in school.

In fact, sensible people want to extend the advantages of that culture of literacy to kids who come from lower-SES families. Rich prefers to denigrate this culture. She creates the sense that higher-SES families are pulling a fast one on the lower-SES parents and kids.

So too with the Atlanta schools. It isn't that the white kids in the district have an array of socioeconomic advantages—advantages which make an achievement gap wholly predictable. Instead, Rich pictures something sinister. She implies that "segregation" must explain the achievement gap.

One more point should be noted. Rich reduces a socioeconomic gap to a matter of mere dollars and cents. In doing so, she disappears the cultural factors which help create achievement gaps among the nation's kids.

Starting from the first weeks of life, kids from higher-SES families are introduced to the culture of literacy in many ways. Everyone understands this fact by now—everyone but the New York Times, a newspaper which rarely wastes its time on low-income kids and tends to play the hero on the rare occasions when it does.

Before the week is done, we want to give you a skeleton key to Times reporting on low-income schools. There are things you're allowed to hear about when the Times discusses such topics. Other facts tend to get disappeared.

As usual, Rich's report was puzzlingly bad. This is the normal state of affairs when the New York times deigns to discuss the nation's low-income children and schools.

Tomorrow, we'll ask a basic question: where does literacy come from? We're going to start with a few short excerpts from the recent, widely-praised memoir by the highly literate Ta-Nehisi Coates.

No one is perfectly "literate," of course. That said, Brother Coates is highly literate.

Where did that literacy come from? How can we provide it to others, to our many good decent kids?


  1. Bob has managed to turn a single New York Times online article into an eight part series by producing a written imitation of a scratched and skipping phonograph record (you inexperienced youngish must ask their elders what that sounds like).

    Even the miniscule contributions to the combox voice lame repetitions, as if mocking or honoring the bloggers work.

    1. Yeah! And coming up with the broken record metaphor is anything but lame!

    2. Making a comment in this eighth installment is apparently, to most Howler readers, lame.

  2. This is all well and good, but what about the SJWs, progs, libs, and Ferguson?