No one cares about low-income kids!


Except perhaps maybe as click-bait:
What explains our very large "racial"/ethnic achievement gaps? We refer to the types of gaps which obtained on the 2012 PISA, which tested 15-year-old students:
Average scores, Reading Literacy, 2012 PISA
United States, Asian-American students: 550
Japan: 538
South Korea: 536
Finland: 524
Taiwan: 523
United States, white students: 519
United States: 498
United States, Hispanic students: 478
United States, black students: 443
According to PISA-connected Amanda Ripley, 39 points on the PISA scale is considered to be the rough equivalent of one academic year.

Applying that very rough rule of thumb, white kids in the U.S. basically matched miraculous Finland—not that you'd ever learn such a thing in the mainstream press. On average, black kids in the U.S. would have been several years behind. Asian-American kids outscored all the world's public school superpowers.

The gaps seem to be larger on some tests. What explains these gaps? How can we confront them?

During our recent series, Where the Test Scores Are, we said that different people are inclined to answer those questions in different ways. We also mentioned the fact that no one actually cares.

What did we mean by that last award-winning comment? Consider the two paragraphs Slate devoted to public school issues today. The two grafs were written by Marissa Martinelli, who seems to be straight out of college, as is completely appropriate.

This was her entire piece, except for the tape of John Oliver:
MARTINELLI (10/31/16): Though the Civil Rights Act of 1964 invalidated laws that kept black and white students in separate schools, racial segregation in America’s school systems is still very much alive and well. John Oliver kicked off his Last Week Tonight segment on the subject with an admonishment for his more liberal white viewers, who might think the issue only applies south of the Mason-Dixon: “If you’re in a city like New York, you’re probably thinking, ‘Oh, splendid, I know where this is going: a story vilifying the backwards and racist American South. Let me just grab a handful of kale chips that I can munch on while feeling superior.’ ”

Not so fast, Oliver warns, because the New York school system is actually by some measures the most segregated in America, especially because of schools in New York City, where discriminatory housing policies and selective admissions processes have kept black and Latino students separate from their white counterparts. And since funding tends to follow white people “the way white people follow the band Phish,” this hurts minority students—just as, Oliver argues, it hurts white students, too.
That was the entire piece, except for the tape of Oliver.

Does John Oliver know what he's talking about? How about Martinelli? Is it possible that Oliver is just munching a handful of chips while possibly feeling superior?

We'll guess that, on balance, the answers are probably no and maybe possibly yes.

It isn't that professors haven't encouraged us to feel superior while repeating talking points about "segregation" in New York City schools. And it isn't that the New York Times hasn't chipped in this year with several heartfelt but puzzling, kale chip-inflected pieces on this topic.

Here's the problem. The iconic study to which these pieces refer comes from UCLA. Are discriminatory housing policies and selective admissions processes keeping black and Latino students separate from their white counterparts in the New York City schools?

We're not even saying the answer is no. But for starters, consider what one of the New York Times reports said about Gotham's student population:
HANNAH-JONES (6/12/16): The New York City public-school system is 41 percent Latino, 27 percent black and 16 percent Asian. Three-quarters of all students are low-income. In 2014, the Civil Rights Project at the University of California, Los Angeles, released a report showing that New York City public schools are among the most segregated in the country. Black and Latino children here have become increasingly isolated, with 85 percent of black students and 75 percent of Latino students attending ''intensely'' segregated schools—schools that are less than 10 percent white.
In New York City, are 85 percent of black students attending schools that are less than 10 percent white? In that sense, are they "increasingly isolated?"

Let's assume they are! That said, the student population in New York City is less than 15 percent white overall!

New York City's public schools don't have a profusion of white kids. Here's part of what that iconic report said about Gotham's schools:
ICONIC UCLA STUDY (2014): Across the 32 Community School Districts (CSDs) in New York City, 19 had 10% or less white students in 2010, which included all districts in the Bronx, two-thirds of the districts in Brooklyn (central to north districts), half of the districts in Manhattan (northern districts), and only two-fifths of the districts in Queens (southeast districts).
All districts in the Bronx had ten percent or fewer white students. If you had distributed all the white kids in those districts (or in that borough) in a perfectly even fashion, all black and Hispanic students would have been attending "intensely segregated schools!"

When we say that nobody cares, we're thinking of peculiar academic reports like this, and of the people who recite their puzzling frameworks and conclusions without so much as blinking an eye. We also think of mags like Slate, which give young people two paragraphs on this topic, but mainly so they can link to John Oliver, who may not know what he's talking about. (We didn't watch his tape.)

People don't care about low-income kids! Editors do care about clicks, and we humans do like to feel superior. In our view, all three facts are made quite clear day after day after day.


  1. John Oliver talked about integrating suburban schools with urban schools. In NYC, it is hard to think how suburban kids could be integrated with urban kids without some very long commute times. That may be true for many large cities or maybe it is only true for those areas where segregation is intransigent.

    I think it may be worthwhile to consider Oliver's other assertion -- that money tends to follow white kids. If that is true, the problems can be substantially addressed by finding better ways of funding urban schools. No one talks much about rural schools.

    Oliver mistakenly tied low self-esteem to segregated schools. Studies have contradicted that -- self-esteem is lower for minority kids in integrated schools compared to those in segregated schools, and black and Hispanic segregated schools work hard to provide positive role models and images for students. Further, there is no correlation between high self-esteem and academic performance (as the State of California discovered). But providing equal resources seems like a no-brainer.

    Would it be fair to prohibit wealthy parents from buying stuff for their kids schools? Can we require public schools to match parent contributions in all schools. If not, how do you achieve equality?

  2. I had to check out the Oliver piece. It's really quite good, in its promotion of desegregation, but Bob is absolutely right that Oliver seems completely unaware of the stats concerning the makeup of the public school population in New York.

    And can't help but notice, the Times does do some good reporting now and then.

  3. I didn't click through to the study, but I notice Staten Island's absence in the paragraphs above.

  4. @1916 CDT - Fairness is beyond the scope of most people in America. I would say 'no one' is asking you to deprive your precious offspring from your wealthy spending on them, but we all know someone is always out there begging for something. And then we have Donald Trump's kids to show us a perfect example of money makes ya smart. I don't even buy high scores on these tests make kids all that bright, but we have to measure achievement somehow. Equality? Please DON'T ASK US to become equal. Just HOW is that measured? On how much money spent on your kids and NO, I don't advocate some robin hood take from your wealth to throw it somewhere. Maybe the argument can get away from stealing from you. 'we have no intent of taking from you to give to someone else'. My statement; I speak for myself.

  5. I'm watching the Oliver show right now and you're misrepresenting this episode. Watch the show. John Oliver is talking about the problems that result from residential segregation and specifically referring to Charlotte's desegregation plan in the 90s.
    Contact me Bob. Let's talk about the results of desegregation in Maryland.

  6. Projections by the U.S. Census Bureau reveal that 120 million Hispanics will compose 28.6 percent of the U.S. population by 2060. That compares to 55 million and 17 percent of the pop. today(this figure excludes illegals who for obvious reasons don’t fill out census forms).

    Based on this, isn’t it more likely that our test scores will increasingly resemble a country like Mexico rather than a country like Finland or Japan? How do Mexico’s scores look? Fifty-second out of sixty-five countries tested (424). So I guess it’s not our government’s intention to import people from countries with better score than us so as to raise the education level of our country. Looks like they have more important priorities. Hmm...I wonder what those priorities are?

  7. "People don't care about low-income kids!"

    Not true! The people who run our immigration policy love poor kids so much that they want to bring them here from other countries. Sounds like true love to me.

    1. And your posts sound like true hate to me.

    2. Yes! I hate the idea of importing millions more poor people into our already overcrowded nation.

    3. Jane you ignorant slut. Don't you know that our nation benefits economically from immigration? And what makes you think we are overcrowded? Been to Nevada or Montana lately?

    4. Anonymous you ignorant slut. There are 150 countries more crowded than Mexico so they should hardly need to move to move at all, right? And stop thinking so selfishly, if Hispanic people were put on this Earth to relieve the economic suffering of the world's nations through their immigration don't you want those blessings to spread around to the other nations of the world too? Let's not hoard them all for ourselves. Let's encourage the next 100 million of these magical immigrants to spread their miraculous benefits to other less fortunate nations.

    5. The Mexicans are our brothers and sisters. Gloucon X, I am sorry that your hate has blinded you to the possibilities in life.

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