GAPS AND GAP AVOIDANCE: Inventing a cadre of superstar students!


Part 3—The breeze from Wobegon:
It's the con our liberal world simply never stops selling.

This con has been active for at least fifty years. Our team never quits with this con.

To which con do we refer? We refer to the con in which we pretend that our low-income, urban, minority schools are crawling with superstar students.

The beauty of this particular con is fairly obvious. It absolves our team from the task of addressing the giant achievements gaps which obtain in a city like New York. It lets us dodge an obvious fact:

In the end, we simply don't care about struggling, low-income kids; few things could be more obvious. In effect, the con to which we refer today lets us borrow Garrison Keillor's joke about Lake Wobegon, "where the children are all above average."

Full disclosure: Lake Wobegon was fictional, but New York City is not. For ourselves, we may have encountered this con for the first time in the late 1960s, when we read Herbert Kohl's 36 Children—an iconic book about Kohl's allegedly giant success teaching sixth grade in New York.

Enough with all the background noise. Let's return to the present.

We thought we encountered a hint of the "Wobegon con" when we read Jim Dwyer's column in last Saturday's New York Times. As we noted yesterday, Dwyer wrote about the imperfect process by which New York City's eighth-graders get admitted to eight of its nine high-powered "specialized high schools."

The eighth-graders take a one-day test. Admission to those high-powered schools is granted on the basis of those test results alone. Plainly, that's an imperfect system. But even as Dwyer began his piece, we almost thought we sensed a breeze blowing off Wobegon:
DWYER (6/9/18): In New York's ragged history of race, class, privilege and equity, the city's specialized high schools have long been proxies. For some, they are the ideal of meritocratic opportunity, incubators of working-class genius and talent; others see their admissions policies as the picture of ''monumental injustice,'' as Mayor Bill de Blasio described them this month in Chalkbeat.

Now, in a system where the overwhelming majority of students have no access to advanced science or math classes, no matter how capable they are, the mayor and the new schools chancellor, Richard A. Carranza, are campaigning to change the admission process at the specialized schools, the most famous and prestigious in the city.
As we noted yesterday, that's the way Dwyer started his column. In that highlighted statement about all those capable students, we almost thought we sensed that breeze from Wobegon.

For the record, that statement about "advanced classes" is perhaps slightly misleading; we'll discuss that point tomorrow. For today, we'll show you the part of Dwyer's column where the breezes began blowing harder:
DWYER: Most city students never come near a physics classroom. Although it is the keystone discipline of modern science and technology, the subject is barely taught in the public high schools, outside a select few programs such as those at the specialized schools and elsewhere.

That lack of opportunity hits with greatest force in schools where most students are black or Latino, according to Angela Kelly, a professor of science education at Stony Brook University.

''If a student wants to pursue a college major in life science, engineering, or health, physics is really a gateway course for being able to be succeed,'' said Dr. Kelly. ''Having limited opportunity to learn physics has many social and economic ramifications.''

That tells us something else. Hidden behind the proxies is another monumental injustice: The supply of excellent schools cannot meet the demands of capable students, whatever their backgrounds.
For what it's worth, those highlighted statements all seem to be accurate, or at least technically so. Still, we thought a breeze was possibly blowing off a (fictional) lake as Dwyer seemed to describe a giant school system crawling with "capable students."

An obvious question arises at this point in Dwyer's column. If New York City has that many capable students seeking advanced classes in math and physics, why doesn't the city open additional "specialized high schools?"

Why stick with eight high-powered schools? Why not start eight more?

Also, why stage a racial/ethnic war about the seats in the schools which exist? Why not open additional high-powered schools to serve all those high-powered students?

We'll discuss that obvious question tomorrow. For today, let's move on to the essay by Mayor De Blasio—the essay Dwyer cited right at the start of his column.

Could a breeze be detected in Dwyer's piece? In de Blasio's essay, the winds began to howl.

We have no doubt that Mayor de Blasio is a good, decent person. But fifty years later, we think progressives should perhaps react with angry contempt to essays which start like this:
DE BLASIO (6/2/18): I visit schools across this city and it never fails to energize me. The talent out there is outstanding. The students overflow with promise. But many of the smart kids I meet aren’t getting in to our city’s most prestigious high schools. In fact, they’re being locked out.

The problem is clear. Eight of our most renowned high schools–including Stuyvesant High School, Bronx High School of Science and Brooklyn Technical High School–rely on a single, high-stakes exam. The Specialized High School Admissions Test isn’t just flawed–it’s a roadblock to justice, progress and academic excellence.

If we want this to be the fairest big city in America, we need to scrap the SHSAT and start over.

Let’s select students for our top public high schools in a manner that best reflects the talent these students have, and the reality of who lives in New York City. Let’s have top-flight public high schools that are fair and represent the highest academic standards.
De Blasio is blown away by all the smart kids he meets. He sees talent in New York's schools in something which may resemble the way Trump sees talent in Kim.

Alas! According to de Blasio, many of Gotham's brainiac kids are being "locked out" of the specialized high schools, all because of the SHSAT. (Actual acronym.) In his next paragraph, he cites the small number of black and Hispanic kids getting admitted to those "prestigious schools," and he calls the existing state of affairs a "monumental injustice."

Perhaps the mayor believe what he says! A bit later on, he instructs the gods to make the winds howl off that lake:
DE BLASIO: My administration has been working to give a wider range of excellent students a fair shot at the specialized high schools. Now we are going to go further. Starting in September 2019, we’ll expand the Discovery Program to offer 20 percent of specialized high school seats to economically disadvantaged students who just missed the test cut-off.

This will immediately bring a wider variety of high-performing students, from a wider number of middle schools, to the specialized high schools.
For example, the percentage of black and Latino students receiving offers will almost double, to around 16 percent from around 9 percent. The number of middle schools represented will go from around 310 to around 400.

This will also address a fundamental illogic baked into the high-stakes test. A great score and you might be in, but beware a point too low and you might be out. Now, a disadvantaged student who is just a point or two shy of the cut-off won’t be blocked from a great educational opportunity.
Amazing! Those schools are full of Asian-Americans kids because so many excellent, high-performing black and Hispanic students missed the cut-off by just one or two points!

We liberals have thrilled to stories like this since at least the 1960s. And how do we know that this is twaddle? For starters, just consider what the mayor just said:

Under his magical instant reform, "the percentage of black and Latino students receiving offers will almost double, to around 16 percent from around 9 percent."

Imagine! The number of admission offers will go all the way up to 16 percent, in a city where black and Hispanic kids make up roughly two-thirds of the student population! That's what happens if you adjust for income, and lower the acceptable score, in ways which aren't here defined.

For ourselves, we aren't necessarily opposed to adjusting for income, though tribal wars start as you do.

Beyond that, it may be a perfectly decent idea to lower the admission score. If you want to read his whole essay, de Blasio goes on to recommend other changes in admission procedures which would bring black and Hispanic enrollment in those schools all the way up to 45 percent.

De Blasio goes on ot swear that none of this would lower standards at these high-powered schools. "Anyone who tells you this is somehow going to lower the standard at these schools is buying into a false and damaging narrative," he dictatorially states.

It may be true that de Blasio's reforms would open these high-powered schools to lots of kids who would benefit from admission. It may be true that the specialized schools would be just as good academically as before—and that they'd be much better socially due to their greater inclusion.

What de Blasio doesn't do is answer that obvious question:

If there are so many excellent, capable students out there, why doesn't the city simply establish additional high-powered schools? More on that question tomorrow.

It might be a very good idea to admit more kids to these high-powered schools. There may even be ways to accomplish this task without igniting the inevitable race/ethnicity wars we liberals seem to enjoy. More on those wars tomorrow.

That said, we merely want to comment today on a familiar breeze off a certain lake. Specifically, we were struck by the way this appalling mayor blew right past his school system's achievement gaps as he ran a decades-old street-level con in his essay:
Average scores, Grade 8 math, Naep
New York City Public Schools, 2017

White students: 290.71
Black students: 255.63
Hispanic students: 263.56
Asian-American students: 306.03
Those are gigantic achievement gaps, right there in that mayor's schools. They suggest the possibility that quite a few kids in this man's Wobegon may not be "above average" after all, or anywhere close to same.

Where do those achievement gaps come from? How should those gaps be addressed? When people like de Blasio hand us pleasing pabulum from Lake Wobegon, they are telling us pseudo-liberals that we should stop worrying about the hundreds of thousands of low-income kids on the very short end of those gigantic achievement gaps, the gaps we love to avoid.

They're telling us it's all a mistake, that those punishing gaps don't exist. In the process, those kids are thrown under a big yellow bus and the mayor, pleasing our uncaring tribe, drives the bus over their bodies.

We liberals have run this familiar old con since the dawn of time. We keep finding ways to avoid the gaps. This allows our disinterest in low-income kids to live on.

It's just one or two points on some test, we declare. This allows Times readers to return to their weeping about the late Kate Spade and her wonderful bags.

More on that topic tomorrow. We'll incldue this trip, by private yacht, to the Washington Post.

Tomorrow: Concerning those "advanced classes"


  1. "To which con do we refer? We refer to the con in which we pretend that our low-income, urban, minority schools are crawling with superstar students"

    Nah, Bob, that's not your con. Your con is, quite simply, to divide and rule. To ignite and maintain racial/ethnic wars (just as you noted). To pit various 'identity' groups of 'deplorables' against each other, and to keep exploiting and plundering them while they fight. Simple and efficient.

  2. More fallout from DeNiro's F bomb.

    Democrats just won a Wisconsin special election Scott Walker didn’t want to have

    It’s another round of big wins for Democrats in the Badger State.

  3. Every accusation is a confession.

  4. God is a figment of dim-witted imaginations.

  5. Today there was an interesting article in the NY Times about the gaps between boys and girls in math and English. As it turns out, boys do better in math only when their families are high income, otherwise girls and boys do about the same or girls do better. Girls however do consistently better than boys in English regardless of family income.

    The researchers suggest that parents talk more to girls from infancy. They suggest that low income boys are encouraged toward sports and video games while girls read more. Upper income boys do well in math because they see their fathers engaged in careers that require math, whereas low income boys do not have that motivation. Further, low income boys tend to see academics as not masculine activities.

    If Somerby cared about these gaps, he might have mentioned this very interesting article. But he apparently only cares about those racial gaps, not the ones related to sex, which have been similarly intransigent and have a strong impact on kids' lives.

    But Somerby doesn't care much about women's issues at all. Because some people are more important than others.

    1. Here's the lede from the article:
      In much of the country, the stereotype that boys do better than girls at math isn’t true – on average, they perform about the same, at least through eighth grade. But there’s a notable exception.

      In school districts that are mostly rich, white and suburban, boys are much more likely to outperform girls in math

      That good-fer-nothin' Somerby. Why doesn't he care about rich, white, suburban girls? He hates women, can't respect a woman after he sleep with her, and thinks dating underage girls is just fine. And he couldn't imagine Hillary as President. I swear that's all true: I read it in the TDH comments section.

      By the way, the worst of these gaps is in the Crymeafuggin River Consolidated School District. I think that's in New Jersey, but don't hold me to that.

    2. So, you apparently think women's issues are trivial and something to make fun of, while Somerby just ignores them. But you skipped the part where I talked about the boys and English skills. If you look at the chart that accompanied the article, note the huge and consistent gap, about a grade level, simply because boy babies are not talked to as much as girls are. And the gap in math between rich and poor boys is because the low income boys are aimed at sports and video games, not school. Did you miss where I talked about that?

      You single out a triviality and pretend it was everything said by both me and the article itself. And then pretend there is nothing to care about. Stay classy, deadrat.

    3. That’s right, Sweetie. I think all women’s issues are trivial, and like Somerby, I hate women, can’t respect a woman after I have sex with her, support older men dating underage girls, and couldn’t imagine Hillary being President.

      Your comment is pathetic even by the standards of a commentariat that includes Mao in Cal and David Cheng Ji.

      Just in case you can’t spot sarcasm, let me hasten to say that I think this issue is trivial and that I’m making fun of you. I didn’t miss what you wrote; I dismissed it. Here are my reasons:

      1. If a one-grade-level gap is “huge”, then TDH is talking about chasms. Pick your scale. Your problem is essentially trivial.

      2. If we could magically close the gaps that TDH talks about (incessantly), we probably would find that the gap between rich and poor boys gone as well.

      3. If the just-so story in the article is true (i.e, about talking to babies and the interplay between sports, video games, and school), then there’s no grounds for public policy to find a remedy.

      4. At my age, I don’t have that many fucks to give, and I don’t intend to waste one on the problems of rich, white, suburban girls.

      OK, I’m not classy. That’s a fair cop. But at least I can think straight. Give it a try. You might like it.

      And you can stay classy. A win-win, no?

  6. David,
    What does it say about today's Conservatives that they want less people voting in a representative democracy?

  7. David has a micropeen and rarely leaves his mother's house. We need to be gentle and considerate when we talk about what a damaged retard he is.

  8. 10;58,
    I see what you did there.
    Using irony to better explain Trump's reaction to our fellow Americans suffering in Puerto Rico.
    Well played sir.

  9. Big city politicians would yell "squirrel!" in the face of the Naep scores, and I understand that "economically disadvantaged" is code for nonwhite.

    Realistic prognostications from de Blasio or not, how is this plan not going to set off a legal and political rumble?

    1. Why, political rumble is the whole point: to bump, nationwide, lumpenproletarian turnout in this year elections by a couple of points, for the benefit of Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer.

    2. The outraged parents won't be white New Yorkers who vote blue, buy Kate Spade handbags, and make political contributions?

    3. The (inevitable) backlash against this round of 'desegregation' will be publicized and used to motivate zombies, attracting them to the voting places.

    4. Do you even know there is a new pope?

    5. What is the point of your gratuitous Kate Spade reference, Cecelia?

    6. @anon 3:24 it was Somerby's gratuitous reference in this very post:
      "It's just one or two points on some test, we declare. This allows Times readers to return to their weeping about the late Kate Spade and her wonderful bags."

    7. Thank you -- I missed Somerby huge lack of empathy and dismissal of the importance of women's handbags. He's probably never bought a piece of clothing lacking pockets. Women's clothes never have them -- spoils the silhouette for men's viewing pleasure. So we need something carry our stuff around in. But Kate Spade is somehow ridiculous to Somerby, not worth weeping over, because she designed and manufactured an object he never had to carry around. Talk about lack of empathy!

      Glad it wasn't you who brought that to the table, Cecelia.

    8. Anonymous4:15pm,let that be a lesson to you.
      If you had bothered to read the blog, you could have immediately gone to castigating Somerby, rather than having to read everyone else to learn what he said.

      Try it. It saves time.


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  11. I'll bathe you in soapy water.

  12. I'll scrub you up and down.

  13. "They're telling us it's all a mistake, that those punishing gaps don't exist"

    No, they are not. Nowhere does DeBlasio say or even imply that.

    "The number of admission offers will go all the way up to 16 percent, in a city where black and Hispanic kids make up roughly two-thirds of the student population!"

    Odd to accuse someone of a con, when DeBlasio himself states these numbers. A con artist would simply have said "Those numbers will go way up, that I can tell you."

  14. Leave your comments to this moral and intellectual idiot under Mao Cheng Ji's comments. I'm fairly sure that they're the same person.

  15. I'll pour soup on you deadrat.

  16. Somerby seems to be saying three things:
    1. racial/ethnic achievement gaps persist
    2. Desegregation (or "integration" as it used to be called) doesn't work
    3. Liberals who support desegregation efforts are not just misguided and well-meaning; they have engaged in a "con job", which serves as an arm of the "racial/ethnic" wars they love.

    NAEP test scores for all racial groups have improved over the past 50 years. This could well be the result of changes implemented in public schools over that time, including desegregation. It is also possible that the scores for certain groups, like black students, lag behind those of white students due to historical/cultural factors.

    If one believes that desegregation doesn't work, then that calls into question the original Brown decision, which mandated integration. That and MLK's efforts can be viewed as simply an arm of liberal racial/ethnic wars.

    Somerby's continued illustration of endemic achievement gaps and his failure to suggest ways to fix them suggests that the problem lies outside of the school system, and that little can be done within the school system to solve it.

    One approach would simply be the traditional way: we have academic standards, and if a student fails to achieve that standard, then so be it.

    1. "If one believes that desegregation doesn't work, then that calls into question the original Brown decision, which mandated integration. That and MLK's efforts can be viewed as simply an arm of liberal racial/ethnic wars. "

      When you say "work" you need to specify what the goal was. In the case of Brown v Board of Education, the studies showing that separate was not equal focused on the self-esteem and social inclusion of black children, demonstrating empirically that separate schools, no matter how well funded, still produced feelings of lower self-worth.

      In this situation with de Blasio, the goal is to nurture talent in high performing students by sending them to magnet schools. Desegregation in this case is intended to produce academic results, provide the opportunity for access to better schooling, not improve self-esteem. The goals are different.

      Your belief that you can wipe out everything MLK did and stood for by showing that desegregation doesn't work is quaint.

      Regardless of the cause of achievement gaps, the schools must still address them and help each child do the best possible. It doesn't matter whether other kids are doing better -- teachers still try to help each child do achieve his or her best.

      Somerby's focus on gaps is well-meaning, but I agree that his efforts would be better placed determining what the enduring social problems are that produce such differences beginning in the first years of schooling. I disagree with your solution -- dismissing the low achievers by saying sucks to be you and giving up on them. That is not how a democracy works. Recognizing that our common fate rests on the participation of all citizens, we try to make sure that everyone is up to the job and able to participate fully in our society. Republicans used to believe this too. Those who don't feel able to help others have a serious hole in the middle of their chests and skulls full of straw.

    2. I'm not advocating doing nothing about achievement gaps. I am suggesting that that traditional view is still held by a large group of people. Unlike Somerby, I won't suggest that that group is motivated purely by politics.

      Somerby accuses liberals of engaging in a 50-year con job. That means he believes that they deliberately push ideas that they know to be bad. He says it is because of liberals' love of identity politics, or "racial/ethnic" wars.

      He seems to suggest that achievement gaps cannot or should not be solved or improved by desegregation. (He has done that repeatedly in past posts). And he gives the impression that liberals' only concern is desegregation, which is untrue.

      I am asking about the Brown decision because one could argue a la Somerby that forcing schools to integrate was a culture war waged by liberals. He certainly suggests that desegregation won't help the gaps. That is why he is unimpressed with DeBlasio's plan.

      There are academic studies and experts who think desegregation is a good idea. I have no idea if it is or isn't. But Somerby doesn't weigh the evidence. He seems to have decided on his own.

      It still seems that the three points I made trying to lay out Somerby's argumentation are true. I am trying to work out what it is that Somerby is actually suggesting.

      And I can't agree with you they Somerby is well-meaning, since he never suggests ways to improve achievement gaps and his main concern seems to be bashing liberals.

    3. There is a GOP Arizona congressman now arguing that there are not enough white people in Arizona to desegregate their schools. It is Somerby's argument all over again. Once again we see Somerby promoting a conservative talking point in a supposedly liberal blog.

    4. Just because a conservative says something, that doesn't mean it's wrong. In this case the "conservative" is Rep. David Stringer, R-Racist of the Arizona legislature. Now Stringer is worried about the purity and essence of his natural fluids should immigration change the demographics of Arizona from its current 60% white. If the student population of Arizona's schools are that pale, then mathematics won't get in the way of desegregation. That is to say, there are still plenty of white students to go around. But Somerby is talking about school districts with 15% white students. Stringer's warning holds for those districts.

    5. NAEP test scores for all racial groups have improved over the past 50 years. This could well be the result of changes implemented in public schools over that time, including desegregation.

      Possibly. But schools have been resegregating over those years.

      If one believes that desegregation doesn't work, then that calls into question the original Brown decision, which mandated integration.

      Brown v Board required that public policy couldn't mandate the separation of the races. This was a time when it didn't matter where black students lived; they had to go to a school with an all black student body, even if that meant busing them past nearby "white" schools.

      Can't do that no more.

    6. The only thing David Stringer cares about is where his next grift is coming from.

    7. Ev,

      Well, yeah. Birds gotta fly, fish gotta swim, grifters gotta grift.

  17. David doesn't make up his own comments. They come from conservative talking points and propaganda websites.

    Greg (not-Greg), deadrat is just saying that Mao and David are the same. I think Cecelia is David's actual sockpuppet.

  18. Greg,

    What kind of soup?

  19. Anon 3:34,pm, of all the Anons here on a board replete with anonymous posters, your anonymous self calling me a sock puppet is the most distressing.

  20. Greg,

    Mmm. Count me in.

  21. Interesting article on the economically disadvantaged kids who missed the elite school cut-off by a point or two - roughly 80% are white or Asian. Ooops.

    ***“It’s clear at this point that it’s not an effective approach,” said Lazar Treschan, youth policy director at the Community Service Society and who has studied specialized high school admissions.***

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