More bungled work at the Times: The boxed sub-headline on the column had a gloomy feel. Specifically, here's what it said:
More poor students are going to college, but the number of graduates falls.Frankly, it sounded bad. It sounded like the column in question concerned the nation's "poor students." It sounded like the number of college graduates among that group has been in decline.
In fact, the column wasn't about "poor" students at all. If you read some extremely tiny print beneath a graphic the column contained, you could see that the column was actually about students from "the lowest wealth group," defined as students from "the bottom 40 percent of households."
Is forty percent of the country "poor?" Increasingly, everything is possible, but the official poverty rate in 2016 was 12.6 percent.
In fact, the column in question wasn't about students who are poor; it was about kids from the lower 40 percent of the income distribution. That said, it isn't true that fewer kids from that income group are graduating from college. If you simply look at the graphic we've mentioned, it's clear that the number of college graduates in that income group has gone up, to the extent that the study in question could determine such matters.
As such, the boxed sub-headline on the New York Times column was flatly wrong, in two different ways. In fairness, the author of the column, David Leonhardt, didn't exactly make either such claim in his actual column, although he came darn close.
That isn't to say that the column stated its findings clearly. Possibly somewhat idiocratically, here's how Leonhardt began:
LEONHARDT (3/25/18): First, some good news: In recent decades, students from modest backgrounds have flooded onto college campuses. At many high schools where going to college was once exotic, it’s now normal. When I visit these high schools, I see college pennants all over the hallways, intended to send a message: College is for you, too.We'll call that a New York Times classic:
And thank goodness for that message. As regular readers of this column have heard before, college can bring enormous benefits, including less unemployment, higher wages, better long-term health and higher life satisfaction.
Now for the bad news: The college-graduation rate for these poorer students is abysmal. It’s abysmal even though many of them are talented teenagers capable of graduating. Yet they often attend colleges with few resources or colleges that simply do a bad job of shepherding students through a course of study.
The result is both counterintuitive and alarming. Even as the college-attendance gap between rich and poor has shrunk, the gap in the number of rich and poor college graduates has grown. That shouldn’t be happening.
In his opening paragraph, Leonhardt says he's discussing "students from modest backgrounds." He never explains what that means.
By paragraph 3, a change has occurred. Now we're told that he is discussing "poorer students." Though this description is remarkably vague, it still isn't exactly wrong.
In paragraph 4, he goes all the way. We're now told that we're discussing "rich and poor," more specifically that we're discussing "the number of rich and poor college graduates."
In fact, we aren't discussing "poor college graduates." We're never told who we're really discussing—students who come from homes in the bottom 40 percent.
In fairness, none of this actually matters. It doesn't matter because nothing of substance actually turns on anything that's ever said in New York Times opinion columns, or anywhere else in the paper.
The paper exists to fill us with sop, and to convey a good upper-class impression. Plainly, no one seems to care if the newspaper's work is even marginally accurate.
Presumably, it would be good to create a world in which more kids from modest or even poverty backgrounds could succeed in public school and then go on to succeed in college. That said, let's be real. Nothing you read in the New York Times will ever serve that end.
The paper's education reporting has been a joke for as long as we've been reading the paper. They finally reassigned Motoko Rich away from the education beat, where she made so many astonishing errors. But nothing you read in the Times about public schools is likely to ever make sense.
Also this—no one who reads the New York Times gives a flying fig or felafel about kids "from modest backgrounds." If you can't see that from reading the paper, there's a chance that you, like Donald J. Trump, don't know how to read at all.
Leonhardt is supposed to be one of the Times' bright ones. That said, the boxed sub-headline on his column is bogus in two major ways.
On the brighter side, it seems to make a gloomy claim about the state of education today. That's all the Times has ever asked of work in this general field.
Late in his column, Leonhardt says the college graduation gap "makes the United States a less fair country." We'd say that employing scribes like Leonhardt makes the country less fair.
Leonhardt says he'll be writing columns about ways to address the problem he so murkily describes. Will he have some good ideas? Given the track record of his paper, would any person who was sane actually take that bet?
Suggestions from the assignment desk: Where did Stormy go to high school? Who was she blanking back then?