Interlude—The New York Times does it again: We've all heard about high school kids who are "working on third grade level."
What happens when a nation's most famous newspaper seems to function that way?
This question arose as we read the latest report by Harris and Hu about Mayor de Blasio's heroic attempt to "desegregate" New York City's eight high-powered "specialized high schools."
In print editions, this latest report consumes the whole of this morning's page A18—the first page of the Times' "New York" section.
As usual, this full-page report asks us to be shocked, shocked about what the Times is reporting. For itself, the Times seemed to be shocked to learn this less-than-shocking fact:
High achievement is taking place in the schools with the highest achievers!
Beyond that, the report continues a standard practice by the Times. Once again, we're asked to believe a subjective account from a school official even as the Times fails to present the relevant data—data which strongly tend to contradict the impression the official conveys.
In its constant failure to report basic data, the New York Times keeps choosing to work on grade school level. At best, it's pretending to cover Mayor de Blasio's peculiar new proposal.
In this morning's report, Harris and Hu are shocked to learn that lots of kids from the city's "highly selective" middle schools are gaining admission to the city's eight specialized high schools.
How silly is this stance? If we assume the scribes are sincere, we'd place their analytical skills on something like second grade level. Let's start with a basic review:
At the end of fifth grade, New York City assigns many of its highest achievers to "highly selective" middle schools, where they, quite correctly, pursue an advanced course of study.
Please understand! In any sensible public school system, these same higher-achieving kids would pursue an advanced course of study, even if they attended a large, academically diverse, "neighborhood school."
Instead, New York City sends many such kids to certain "highly selective" schools. Three years later, lot of kids in these high-powered schools gain admission to the city's eight high-powered high schools.
The New York Times, along with the mayor, seems to be shocked by this result. Why would schools which are full of high achievers turn out high achievers? The Times is bollixed by that!
You'd think a newspaper couldn't get dumber than that. Today, the Times has made its latest attempt.
At issue is the Rafael Hernandez Dual Language Magnet School in the Bronx, a school which hasn't seen a lot of its kids gain admission to the eight "specialized high schools."
In two separate passages, Harris and Hu quote the principal of this school. He seems to feel that his students are getting shortchanged by current admission procedures.
His assessment of his school and his students is completely subjective. Later, we'll show you the basic data, which seem to diverge from his view:
HU AND HARRIS (6/30/18): For the Rafael Hernandez Dual Language Magnet School in the Bronx, the change would be equally profound [under the mayor's proposed plan]. This year, 63 students at the school took the SHSAT. None scored high enough to be admitted. The year before, just three made the cut, and two the year before that. Under the new plan, the school would send six students to the specialized schools every year. “What they want to do, it’s going to open the door for a lot of my students,” said Sergio Caceres, the school’s principal.Caceres believes that more of his students should be gaining admission to the eight high-powered high schools, including his own borough's prestigious Bronx High School of Science.
Dr. Caceres, the Bronx principal, said that half of his eighth-grade students already take advanced math and science classes, and have the ability and work ethic to thrive in a challenging school like Bronx Science. His students do not do well on the SHSAT, he said, in part because most of their families cannot afford tutoring. When the results came back this spring, some of the students were so disappointed they cried.
“Don’t you think it’s embarrassing that Bronx Science is in the Bronx and only a handful of students are from the Bronx?” he asked. “People might think we don’t have the students, but we do have the students.”
According to Caceres, half his eighth-grade students are taking "advanced math and science classes." He says they have what it takes to succeed at a high-powered school like Bronx Science.
"We have the students," he says. He says they don't get admitted to the specialized schools because their parents "can't afford tutoring." Presumably, this is a reference to SHSAT test prep.
He says it's embarrassing that his kids don't get admitted to the specialized schools. In one respect, that's certainly true. But let's take a look at the record!
For the record, Caceres could always be right in his basic assessment. That said, his basic assessment is completely subjective. For example:
Just exactly how "advanced" are those "advanced classes?" Harris and Hu don't ask. Routinely, professional skepticism heads for the door when the Times hands you moments like this.
In today's dose of bathos, Times readers are left with the subjective assessment of a middle school principal who's an interested party. Incomparably, we decided to take a look at the statistical record.
Under the mayor's peculiar proposal, admission to these eight high-powered high schools would be based on two factors—a student's grade point average, and his or her scores on New York State's annual statewide tests. (The current SHSAT admission test would cease to exist.)
Luckily, a school's performance on the statewide tests is a matter of public record. We decided to compare the performance at Hernandez to the performance at Booker T. Washington Middle School, one of the "highly selective" middle schools which gets kicked around, for the ten millionth time, in today's report.
How well do the kids at Hernandez perform as compared to the kids at Booker T. Washington? Caceres says his kids have the tools. The data seem to say something different.
Remember—scores on these New York State tests would be one of the mayor's chosen metrics. We aren't vouching for the utility of these data. Mayor de Blasio is!
Below, you see the basic data the Times withheld in favor of a subjective assessment from an interested party. We'll explain the data below:
New York State math test, Grade 8Do you want to know the difference between a "performance level" and a "proficiency rating" in the complex lexicon of the New York City schools?
2016-2017 school year
Booker T. Washington Middle School:
Average student proficiency rating: 3.88 (of maximum 4.5)
Percentage of students achieving proficiency: 86.2%
Rafael Hernandez Magnet School:
Average student proficiency rating: 2.61 (of maximum 4.5)
Percentage of students achieving proficiency: 30.4%
We're assuming you don't! At any rate, Booker T. Washington's average proficiency rating was much higher than that achieved at Hernandez.
Meanwhile, a student is rated "proficient" in math if he or she achieves a "performance level" of 3 or 4 on the statewide test (as opposed to a 1 or a 2). At Booker T. Washington, 86% of the kids scored proficient. At Hernandez, the number was thirty percent.
This doesn't mean that Hernandez doesn't have kids who would benefit from the high-powered programs of a school like Bronx Science. Indeed, in the school year under review, three kids from Hernandez gained admission to specialized high schools through their performance on the SHSAT.
That said, how does the principal's glowing assessment seem once you've seen the data? Does it still seem weird to learn that Booker T. Washington has been sending many more kids to the specialized high schools, as opposed to the school in the Bronx?
Does that principal's subjective assessment seem to jibe with those data? Of one thing you can be certain—you will never be told about such data by the New York Times.
With great persistence, the Times provides subjective assessments from parents and principals while hiding key data away. They disappear New York City's enormous achievement gaps. Today, they slid past basic test scores as they fed you the story they like.
In its reporting on de Blasio's plan, the Times has been working on second-grade level. This is why we say that:
The first objection is obvious. The Times never identifies the obvious, bewildering question raised by the mayor's proposal.
If Gotham has as many high-achieving kids as the mayor claims, why would the city continue to run just eight high-powered high schools? Why wouldn't the mayor open four additional high-powered schools? Why not add eight more?
De Blasio's failure to address that question is the most gobsmacking part of his ugly "race war" proposal. The Times refuses, again and again, to identify this puzzling aspect of his peculiar proposal.
Beyond that, the Times keeps pretending to be surprised when middle schools which enroll the city's highest performers end up graduating large numbers of high performers.
You'd have to be extremely dumb to be puzzled or shocked by that. To drown its readers in propaganda and bathos, the Times keeps offering subjective assessments from interested parties while locking key data away.
Educationally, we're in favor of challenging every one of New York City's great kids to the maximum extent that makes sense. Journalistically, we're opposed to childish dissembling and to brain-dead propaganda.
Journalistically, do you ever get tired of being played by a newspaper like the Times? For ourselves, we tired of that in the 1990s.
In its coverage of the "desegregation plans," the New York Times has been working on second-grade level. Except in the realm of propagandistic melodrama, it'a barely performing that well.
The Rafael Hernandez Magnet School is full of superlative kids. The data suggest that it isn't full of Gotham's highest performing students—rather, that this onrushing state of affairs hasn't come to pass just yet.
Where do numbers come from: To peruse the data, just click here. After that, follow these simple steps:
Select "NYC School Survey." Enter the name of the school in question, then click "Find."
Click on "Student Achievement Outcomes." Scroll down to "State Test Metrics."