GAPS AND PLANS: How many kids would benefit?

FRIDAY, JUNE 29, 2018

Part 5—New York City is full of great kids:
How many kids would benefit?

Let's be a bit more precise:

How many kids in New York City would benefit from admission to high-powered academic programs of the type that are pursued in Gotham's eight "specialized high schools?"

According to the New York Times, 5.3% of New York City's high school kids attend those eight high-powered schools. How many additional kids would benefit from such programs? What would the ideal enrollment number be? What percentage of Gotham's kids would benefit from taking that challenge?

We can't answer that question, of course. Ultimately, there's no way that anyone could give a hard-and-fast number.

That said, the good news begins with Mayor de Blasio's current assessment. The mayor says that lots of New York City kids would benefit from such high-powered programs.

Anywhere except in this veil of tears, that assessment would seem like wonderful news. Beyond that, it would lead in an obvious direction:

We would decide to open more schools with those same high-powered programs. As we did, we might look for ways to lessen the sense that only the eight pre-existing schools are "elite" and "prestigious," "the best."

At any rate, we'd look for ways to let all those (great) kids be challenged and served by those challenging programs. Anywhere but in this veil of tears, that's what real humans would do. Those same real humans would also do this:

They'd look for ways to make sure that all the other kids—the kids who weren't the highest academic achievers—could also be challenged and served in appropriate ways, though not at that high-powered level.

Duh! Everybody can't be served by instruction at the highest-powered level! Except in this pitiful veil of tears, every human knows this.

It's also true that every kid in New York City has talents and endless personal worth. By definition, every person won't be ready for "advanced" academic work.

That said, we shouldn't restrict our attention to the kids who are ready for high-powered work. We should find ways to challenge and serve all the other kids too.

(As everyone knows, the greatest kids aren't always the highest academic achievers. Also, the highest achievers won't always be the ones who go on to serve.)

These are blindingly obvious observations. Now, let's return to this veil of tears, and to the mayor's plan.

The mayor wants to keep the eight "specialized schools," but change who gets to attend them. Full and complete puzzling stop.

Most simply put, he doesn't want to serve the additional kids who would benefit from high-powered programs. He wants to kick the Asian kids out, and bring black and Hispanic kids in. (None of this is the doing or fault of any of these kids.)

It's hard to believe that a mayor would ever make such an ugly proposal, but that's what de Blasio wants. It's hard to believe that an editorial board would think this was a good idea, but we're talking about the New York Times—about its low-powered board.

On Monday, the board published a giant, full-page editorial straight outta this veil of tears. Along the way, the reliably bumbling board failed to get its magnum opus posted in the normal ways online.

Even today, the editorial doesn't appear on the "Today's Paper" page for Monday's Times. Even today, you can't find it by scrolling back through the editorials on the Times' "Editorials" page.

Who except the New York Times bumbles through life in this way? Having floated that question, we want to proceed to a more basic question today:

How many additional Gotham kids would benefit from enrollment in those high-powered programs? How many additional high-powered seat does the New York City Public Schools need?

There's no precise way to answer that question. We'll tease you with some data below, but before we do, we want you to see the way the board keeps advancing a destructive, 50-year-old pseudo-liberal storyline:

We refer to the time-honored claim that the black and Hispanic kids are just as capable, as a general matter and on this day, as the white and Asian kids who the mayor wants to banish. We refer to the idea that it's all some giant mistake when we get the idea that some groups of kids are more academically advanced, as a general matter and on this day, as some other groups are.

We liberals have been pushing this poisonous notion since at least the 1960s. Over that fifty-year period, we seem to have developed a fuller understanding of the ways those "achievement gaps" come into existence, starting in the earliest days of life.

We seem to have developed a wider base of knowledge. But this is the upper-class New York Times, and the editors cling to their dogmas.

In Monday's editorial, the editors insist on spreading a modern version of this poisonous notion. They want us to think that Asian kids score better on the city's Specialized High School Admission Test because they've paid for "test prep."

In their gruesome editorial, the editors come disgracefully close to reviving xenophobic scripts about those inscrutable, shifty Orientals. Did Donald J. Trump write parts of this piece? At certain points in the editors' ludicrous screed, a sensible person might wonder.

Those inscrutable Asians! Readers, there they go again! They will literally go without food to take Our Kids' seats away!
NEW YORK TIMES EDITORIAL (6/25/18): In recent weeks, some Asian groups have protested outside City Hall and in Brooklyn, saying that Asian students will lose seats. Asian children are about 16 percent of the district’s student body but a majority at schools like Stuyvesant. Many come from families that have scrimped on essentials like food to pay for test prep. Such objections are understandable, but they don’t change the fact that the admissions policy is flawed and unfair to other children.
How can Our Kids compete with Those People when they're prepared to do that? Two paragraphs later, the editors recall the latest statement by Chancellor Malaprop:
NEW YORK TIMES EDITORIAL: In an interview, the city’s new schools chancellor, Richard Carranza, argued that relying on a single test harmed all New Yorkers, including Asian families who spend scarce resources on test prep. “I’m sorry that the system has forced you to spend your time, your treasure on preparing your kids for that test,” he said. “Help is on the way.”
Chancellor Malaprop to Those People:

Help is on the way! We're booting your kids from our high-powered schools. On the brighter side, you'll get to save money on test prep!

Does Donald J. Trump write Malaprop's stuff? Inquiring minds start to wonder!

Meanwhile, notice this about the board's editorial. At no point do the editors attempt to support their insinuation—the insinuation that the Asian kids are taking Our Seats at the "best schools" because of all the points they gain from SHSAT "test prep" classes.

Such classes do exist in New York. People pay money for their kids to take them. That said, to what extent do those SHSAT-specific classes actually affect SHSAT scores?

Indeed, do they affect those test scores at all? The editors don't seem to know!

Earth to Gotham: To the extent that your test is affected by test prep, you're using a lousy test. But if you're going to suggest that "achievement gaps" on the SHSAT result from pay-to-play "test prep," you need to make some minor effort to show that your claim is accurate.

The editors don't bother to do that! That said, did we mention the fact that this is the New York Times?

In closing, though just for today, we want to show you three bundles of data. Two bundles may be new.

Do Asian kids do well on the SHSAT because they've taken SHSAT-specific test prep classes? Everything is possible! But here are those other punishing gaps, the ones you won't see in the Times:
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 giant achievement gaps. That said, there are no Naep-specific "test prep" classes which explain those brutal gaps.

Are the Asian kids scoring so well because of their fiendish knowledge of test-taking strategies in general? Because of generalized "test prep" savvy?

Everything is possible! But this is where the gaps stood last year among Gotham's fourth-graders:
Average scores, Grade 4 math, Naep
New York City Public Schools, 2017

White students: 245.82
Black students: 220.23
Hispanic students: 220.63
Asian-American students: 246.63
At the end of just the fourth grade, the white and Asian kids were roughly 2.5 years ahead. Were those gaps the result of test prep? And when, after more than fifty years, do we pseudo-libs stop pretending?

We're not suggesting that de Blasio is wrong, full stop, about black and Hispanic kids. Almost surely, there are plenty of black and Hispanic eighth-graders in New York who would benefit from admission to those high-powered high school programs.

We say that for a reason. We've been showing you average scores, but it isn't the average student who should, in a sensible world, go into those high-powered programs.

The average kid should be challenged and pushed hard too. But, in a sensible world, it's the above average student who benefits from "advanced" academic programs.

You might say it's the kids from the "(even more) talented tenth!" With that in mind, here's what New York City's Naep scores looked like last year at the 90th percentile:
Scores at 90th percentile, Grade 8 math, Naep
New York City Public Schools, 2017

White kids: 337.79
Black kids: 299.75
Hispanic kids: 309.51
Asian-American kids: 355.63

(National average, white kids: 292.16)
Ten percent of New York City's black eighth-graders scored above 299. Within that group, there are surely some high-performing kids who would benefit from the challenge of those high-powered programs—kids who aren't being admitted under current procedures.

That said, look where the Asian-American 90th percentile score landed! Are we sure we want to boot those kids so others can take their seats? Why would we want to do that?

As we close, let's return to first principles. In a sensible, rational, human world, we'd create enough high-powered programs so that every kid who would benefit from such instruction would attend a "specialized high school." By way of contrast, with a hat tip to Goofus:

In the world of the mayor's race war, we vow to freeze the number of seats, and we kick the Asian kids out.

In the world of the mayor's race war, the New York Times editorial board signs on to this weird approach. They barely bother to ask how their city's public schools might reduce or eliminate those brutal gaps. Instead, they find the latest way to pretend that those gaps don't really exist, and they kick the Asian kids out.

It's just test prep, these people cry. Then they light out for the Hamptons.

What could New York City's schools do to wipe those gaps away? In the meantime, what should New York City do for the 94.7% percent of its high school kids who can't sit in one of the seats at those eight "best schools?"

What should Gotham do to inspire, serve and challenge the kids who aren't the highest academic achievers? We'll address those questions in the weeks ahead.

The editors don't seem to know or to care. Did we mention that this is the Times?

Tomorrow: A legacy at The Atlantic

Where do data come from: For all Naep data, just click here. From there, you're on your own.


  1. "He wants to kick the Asian kids out, and bring black and Hispanic kids in."

    Liberal nazism in all its glory.

    1. No one emphasizes intelligence like the Democrat left. The gaps are most likely accounted for by innate aptitude and there are differences across ethnic groups. The racist Democrat left is in love with telling everyone about its own superior intelligence even if it doesn't exist. Aptitude reflected in these tests, like skin color, is an accident of birth yet both are used to define and dehumanize people. If you point notice the differences and ask if policies designed around not noticing them are sensible, you'll be called a Nazi by people who, through that accusation, are making a racist value judgment about relative intelligence.

    2. @2:02 PM
      Yes. There are correlations, if you're purposely looking for them.

      What happened to "judge a man not by the color of his skin"? Lib-nazies are hell-bent on doing exactly the opposite. Pitting ethnic groups against each other.

    3. Mao,
      You will be happy to know i made a donation to Black Lives Matter today, in the name of Mike Pence.
      You should do the same.

    4. There are bigger differences in intelligence within ethnic groups than between them.

  2. If I understand Mr. Somerby's thesis, it is that is wrong for NY to reallocate the distribution of seats in its most prestigious schools based on anything other than intelligence as determined by the sole metric of the Specialized High Schools Admissions Test (SHSAT).

    His argument is flawed on several fronts.

    One, any given test my have implicit biases, examine only limited aspects of intelligence (cognitive, spatial, etc.), or other failings.
    Two, why must admissions be granted solely on "intelligence", especially as determined by a questionable test (I say that based on the sample questions given in the editorial: one of which I found subjective)
    Third, the need for diversity, and I assert that there is definitely such a need, is meritorious in its own right.

    In addition, it is disingenuous for Mr. Somerby to imply racial animus ("He wants to kick the Asian kids out") on the part of Mayor de Blasio; it is, in my opinion, only right to distribute limited resources fairly among all children of the populace.

  3. It is unfortunate that Somerby wants to advocate against De Blasio's plan for the specialized high schools by accusing him of wanting to kick Asian kids out, of starting race wars, and generally advocating "poisonous" ideas.

    I doubt that De Blasio has any racial animus toward Asians. Certainly, his stated goal is to ensure more diversity in the magnet schools.

    One can criticize De Blasio's idea, and plead for more attention to achievement gaps in general without poisoning the well by accusing one's opponents of bad faith and evil intentions. These kinds of attacks appeal to the emotions and are designed to bypass the intellect; they can betray a weakness in one's own argument.

    Somerby's method of argumentation emboldens those who already agree with his characterization of his opponents and alienates the very people who might be most receptive to some of his underlying points. And that is unfortunate because it renders him a less effective advocate for school kids.

    1. Why not create more “magnet” schools, so more children can attend them, regardless of their race? Why not create “magnet” programs within existing schools, so people don’t have to fight over getting into just eight of the “best” schools in NYC?

    2. hardindr, you are arguing the specifics of the debate about the specialized high schools in NYC. That is fine. Somerby already suggested that. But just because DeBlasio hasn't proposed your or Somerby's idea doesn't imply that DeBlasio wants to kick Asian kids out. You can argue for your idea and against DeBlasio's without accusing DeBlasio of some sort of racial animus against Asians. My point was not to debate the specifics, but to criticize Somerby's assumption of motive.

      DeBlasio's stated goal is to improve diversity at the existing specialized high schools. He said nothing about wanting to kick out Asians. If you create new magnet schools, perhaps there is some logistical or financial bar to that. Certainly, the new schools would not have the same history and prestige as the existing ones, some of which date back to the early twentieth century. It's kind of like saying that Harvard, for example, isn't diverse enough, so let's create a "new" Harvard. Except then it wouldn't be Harvard!

      Will some Asians lose seats at these schools? Probably.
      Change is always difficult. Some people won't like it. Some of the specialized high schools were all male initially. I suppose there were men who lost out who felt resentful when they allowed women in.

      Actually, I disagree with DeBlasio's plan. But I don't need to accuse him of all sorts of bad things just because I disagree. I think that weakens the argument.

    3. "You can argue for your idea and against DeBlasio's without accusing DeBlasio of some sort of racial animus against Asians"

      Whoa, what an amazing, incredible statement coming from a liberal... ...oh, wait, but DeBlasio is a D-boss? Never mind...

    4. Somerby's point isn't that the mayor has racial animus against Asians, but that he is distracting from the most destructive evidence of racial disparity and rendering many kids expendable in the process.

    5. You have no idea about my political leanings, Mao. I am simply arguing for better argumentation. I disagree with DeBlasio's plan. But one can debate the merits of an idea without resorting to basic debating mistakes.

      If Somerby's intended audience is liberals, and especially liberals who support DeBlasio's plan, and Somerby genuinely wants to change their minds about this, then I am suggesting his approach is a mistake.

    6. @cecelia: Somerby says "He wants to kick the Asian kids out, and bring black and Hispanic kids in"

      And that this is ugly and part of a poisonous liberal tradition.

      Somerby says that DeBlasio "wants" to kick out Asians. That some Asians may lose seats is true, but that is different from saying DeBlasio is doing it for that reason. Why isn't it equally possible to say he wants to include more black and Hispanic kids? After all, those groups are the ones suffering most from those racial disparities in the first place.

      I am also saying that I do not know WHY DeBlasio doesn't want to create new specialized schools or increase the number of seats in the existing ones, but I also can oppose his idea without making leading statements like DeBlasio "wants" to kick out kids, an ugly poisonous idea, etc. I would prefer to say: DeBlasio's plan will have the effect of shutting out a certain number of Asian students who today might get in, and that's an undesirable effect.

    7. Somerby's isn't a pretty way of putting it, but it's more accurate than the chancellor's cringe-producing attempt at finessing the losers in this scenario.

      It's not self-evident that by bluntly indentifying the losers in this plan, Somerby is therefore accusing the major of racism because the losers are largely Asians. This Is a plan to address racial disparity. A point about the racial pitfalls in it is salient.

      Somerby has *expressly attributed this policy to political expediency and a hackneyed approach to such issues.

    8. It will also kick out a certain number of white students. Why assume all or most of those displaced will be Asian? If they score higher than whites, their seats will be secure. Borderline whites will suffer. Is that why people like Somerby oppose this plan?

  4. Anon 4;21pm, it's trying to have it six ways from Sunday that weakens an argument.

    1. Charter schools and school choice in general perpetuate Jim Crow. School choice is promoted by conservatives because they are racists who hate blacks.

      Now. Is that a strong argument against school choice or a weak one? Is it well-reasoned, or demagoguery?

    2. It's not an argument, it's a declaration.

      There are good points to be made against Charter schools. The absence of that effort and the jumping off point is what makes this demagogic.

  5. Providing special schools for kids who can handle more challenge does not imply that other kids are being poorly served by their schools. Nor do low NAEP scores. Without knowing the capacity of the kids, we cannot know whether they are doing the best they can, or not living up to their potential.

    Most average kids wouldn't want to do the work that is expected of kids in those special schools. Not only is it hard work, but they may consider it boring. They do not choose to do it when it is available to them. So, Somerby's idea that all the other kids are being robbed when special schools are created is garbage, and it creates an animosity toward the kids who go to those schools that is unwarranted. This is how kids grow up to resent so-called elites. They learn it from teachers like Somerby who resent the kids who are high achievers and believe they are being given something, instead of working hard to earn it, just as kids of less ability also work hard to achieve whatever proficiency they demonstrate.

  6. Anonymous on June 29, 2018 at 8:42 P

    Here’s what TDH actually says:

    [Real humans would]look for ways to make sure that all the other kids—the kids who weren't the highest academic achievers—could also be challenged and served in appropriate ways, though not at that high-powered level.

    “Average” kids are “robbed” (your word) when phony politicians (i.e., not the ideal, “real” humans that TDH would like to see) fail to make sure that these average kids are challenged in ways other than the high-powered level of the so-called elite schools.

    Nothing about the special schools doing the robbing.

    Consider reporting for remedial help in reading for comprehension.

    1. There is no evidence those kids are not being served. Somerby created the supposed competition.

    2. I would suggest, deadrat, that there are other things going on in NYC schools that are designed to help lower performing schools and students. As anon 10:40 says, it is Somerby who suggests that this is not happening, that DeBlasio's plan is the only thing going. That is nonsense. It's worse than nonsense; it suggests bad faith or deliberate malfeasance on DeBlasio's part.

      Has Somerby told you about anything relating to NYC schools except this plan of DeBlasio's? There is a lot of stuff you could learn about the schools there, if you do some research.

    3. I would also suggest, deadrat, that you take a look at the NAEP long term trends and see how the math scores have changed since 1978. Way up, for all groups, but black and Hispanic scores went up faster than whites. Something is working in our schools.

    4. Tests can only determine who is good at taking that test. I was in the Navy reserve 45 years ago. I made E-5 in four years. I was months from making petty officer 1st class when my enlistment ended because I was good at taking the advancement tests. I knew little about military protocol and would have been almost useless in an emergency because the tests did not measure that.

      Going simply by test scores MIT and Cal Tech would be almost 100% Asian. As a Conservative it pains me to say some diversity is needed. The ridged mindset that makes good test takers may not be what is best for society or the country.

    5. I’m sorry, but I can’t tell one Anonymous commenter with reading problem from another.

      Let me repeat myself, and I promise you I’m typing as slowly as I can so everyone can follow, no matter their reading score.

      TDH does not suggest, as @8:42P claims, that the creation of special schools robs those kids that can’t get into those special schools.

      Anonymous on June 29, 2018 at 10:40 PM, there is evidence that the kids in not-special schools are not being served. That evidence is the NAEP gaps. I’m open to the argument that this evidence is not dispositive, but this has nothing to do with @8:42P’s claim.

      Anonymous on June 30, 2018 at 12:24 AM, perhaps other good things are going on in NYC schools. They’re not enough to overcome the gaps. I’m open to the case that the gaps are not as important as TDH claims or that the NYC schools are doing everything reasonably possible to close those gaps. I find nowhere that TDH claims that de Blasio’s plan is the only thing going, just that the plan is a mistake. Yes, I could do some research on NYC schools, but how would that affect my criticism of @8:42P’s claim.

      I agree that a reasonable inference is that TDH suggests bad faith or malfeasance on de Blasio’s part. But the bigger point is that de Blasio must be aware of the controversy that ensues when diversity collides with numeric scores. If you’re not, I suggest you look up Gratz v Bollinger.

      Anonymous on June 30, 2018 at 12:27 AM, I agree that something is working in our schools, and I think TDH has complained that public education doesn’t get credit for those somethings. But what does that have to do with my criticism of @8:42P’s claim?

      jdmeth, I agree that test-taking skills affect test scores. Are you maintaining that’s all test scores represent? What would you propose that NYC use to determine who should go to the Bronx High School of science? I looked up the curriculum. The school offers advanced placement calculus (which prepares students to get college credit via Advanced Placement exams) and a course that covers the material in a first-year college calculus course. These classes meet five days a week for a year.

      And what does any of that have to do with my criticism of @8:42P’s claim?

      (BTW, I like “ridged mindset.”)

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