Part 3—Indifference and Dent: When she was a senior in high school, Gabriella Ocampo stood at the wrong end of a very large gap.
She attended Birmingham High in Los Angeles. She couldn't pass Algebra 1, a course she took six or seven times.
Finally, this good decent kid dropped out of school. You couldn't graduate in California if you didn't pass Algebra 1.
When it came to high school math, Ocampo stood at the wrong end of a very large gap. Other kids in L.A., and around the nation, bad breezed through Algebra 1 in seventh or eighth grade.
She couldn't pass the course at all. We'd call that a very large gap.
(BREAKING: The state officials who forced her to drop out of school may have been standing at the wrong end of very large empathy/common sense gaps.)
Back in 2006, Duke Helfand reported on this situation in a lengthy, superlative, front-page report in the Los Angeles Times. Eight years later, The Atlantic's Nikole Hannah-Jones wrote about another high school senior who was standing at the wrong end of a very large gap.
That student's name was D'Leisha Dent. She attended Central High in Tuscaloosa.
By all accounts, Dent was a superlative kid. According to Hannah-Jones, she was "class president, a member of the mayor’s youth council [and] a state champion in track and field." During her senior year, she was voted homecoming queen as well.
According to Hannah-Jones, this kid been "an honors student since middle school," but she had "only marginal college prospects." She couldn't attain a minimal score on the ACT. For that reason, she was having a hard time gaining college admission despite her athletic and civic achievements.
Based upon what Hannah-Jones wrote, Dent's whole school seemed to stand on the wrong end of a very large gap. As a senior, Dent was taking the school's Advanced Placement English class. According to Hannah-Jones, the 17 kids taking that class "made up Central’s brightest."
Despite this fact, Dent kept coming up short on the ACT. In many ways, her story sounded a lot like the story from Los Angeles:
HANNAH-JONES (May 2014): Standing one day last fall outside the counselor’s office at Central, D’Leisha looked up at the college bulletin board. It was dominated by National Guard and Army flyers, with some brochures for small Alabama colleges tucked among them. Students with D’Leisha’s grades and tough honors coursework often come home to mailboxes stuffed with glossy college brochures. But most days, nothing showed up in the mail for her, and no colleges had come calling. She had taken the ACT college-entrance exam twice already. The first time she scored a 16, the second time a 17. Her mother’s alma mater, the University of Alabama, expects a 21, the national average. Many four-year colleges will not even consider students who score below an 18.D'Leisha Dent, a good decent kid, stood on the wrong end of a gap. As we noted all last week, achievement gaps are very large across this sprawling nation.
“My biggest fear right now is the ACT,” D’Leisha said. “I don’t have a good score. It’s been on my mind a lot.”
Late last year, D’Leisha took the ACT for the third time, but her score dropped back to 16. So early on a Saturday in February, she got up quietly, forced a few bites of a muffin into her nervous stomach, and drove once again to the community college where the test is administered. A few weeks later, she got her score: 16 again. She contemplated a fifth attempt, but could see little point.
Except at this award-winning site, you've never heard a single word about Ocampo or Dent. You've never heard a word about them because, truth to tell, nobody actually cares.
Nobody cares about the kids on the short end of those very large gaps. Most strikingly, that includes our biggest, most beloved, "corporate liberal" stars.
You'll never hear Rachel, Lawrence or Chris talk about kids like these, unless some such kid gets shot, and only then if he or she gets shot by the right person. Our stars don't care about those kids. Few things could be more clear.
Last week, we chronicled the types of gaps which routinely leave kids like these on the margins of American life. Today, just for clarity's sake, we're going to have the naming of gaps. We'll distinguish three different kinds of gaps we chronicled last week.
We'll start with the largest gap of all. We'll end with the most painful.
The largest gap of all:
The largest gap we looked at last week was drawn from last year's Naep. Below, you see the average score in Grade 8 math for kids from the nation's schools, public as well as private.
You'll also see the scores recorded by kids near the top and the bottom of last year's eighth grade population. The gap between those groups of kids is the largest gap of all:
Grade 8 math, 2011 NaepThat's the largest gap of all! Consider:
All U.S. schools, public and private:
Average score: 283.85
90th percentile: 329
10th percentile: 237
As a very rough rule of thumb, ten points on the Naep scale is often equated to one academic year. On the basis of that rule, a gap approaching eight years obtains between the nation's highest- and lowest-achieving kids.
Again, that's the gap which obtains at the end of eighth grade—a year when many kids breezed through the class our Los Angeles kid couldn't pass four years later.
That's the largest gap of all. Except among the terminally daft, those data help us grasp the enormous range of achievement which obtains among American kids of the same age and grade.
The gap between suburb and city:
We looked at a second type of gap last week—the gap between suburb and city. In this case, we drew on data compiled by Professor Reardon and his associates in a recent nationwide study.
Reardon came up with numbers like the ones shown below for kids in Grades 3-8. He drew on work in reading and math. This is a very large gap:
Where the average student stood:In Reardon's estimation, the average kid in affluent Lexington, Mass. is working 5.9 years above the average kid in low-income St. Louis, possibly by the start of sixth grade. That is a very large gap.
Lexington, Mass.: 3.8 years above grade level
St. Louis, Mo.: 2.1 years below grade level
For the record, Lexington is the nation's highest-scoring suburban district, according to Reardon's data. But many other districts come close.
Other cities score below St. Louis. The gaps in our nation are large.
The most painful gap of all:
We looked at a third type of gap last week—the "racial" achievement gap. Again, we worked from last year's Naep. The numbers look like this:
Average scores, Grade 8 mathYou're looking at the face of our brutal history—and at a very large modern-day gap. You're also looking at the face of our massive modern indifference.
American public schools, 2017 Naep:
White students: 292.16
Black students: 259.60
Hispanic students: 268.49
Asian-American students: 309.52
Many white kids are struggling in school. Many black kids are doing great.
That said, those average scores speak for themselves. So does our endless indifference.
Long ago and far away, liberals cared about this. Jonathan Kozol and others wrote books. Liberals discussed this topic.
Today, our agenda has changed. Rachel would jump off the Golden Gate Bridge before she'd talk about that gap which, because of our gruesome racial history, is the most painful of all.
She's been on the air for almost ten years. She's never spent a single minute discussing ways to address that punishing gap. Nor does she to start. She knows that car wouldn't sell.
What might we do about that gap? In part because we don't care, we liberals don't like to discuss that! When we do, our answers are often perhaps a bit strange. Tomorrow, we'll ponder this fact.
At any rate, we thought we'd devote some time today to the naming of gaps. That largest gap is highly instructive—especially when educational experts crazily say that everybody in the eighth grade should be taught the same Grade 8 math.
On what planet does that make sense? In the larger sense, from what planet have our modern academic and journalistic elites been sent?
That largest gap is highly instructive. But that "racial" achievement gap is the most painful of all.
What should we do about that gap? Tomorrow, some hackneyed ideas.
Tomorrow: The problem with Central High