Part 4—Why the Naep reports percentiles: The New York City Public Schools face a gigantic problem.
Other systems face the very same problem. For the record, this gigantic problem isn't a New York thing.
(The gigantic problem seems to be worse in glorious, distant Seattle!)
The finer element in our society doesn't want to discuss this gigantic problem, which they find embarrassing. For this reason, they focus on the finer ideas preferred by their high social caste.
With the greatest respect for their lovely ideals, this is the shape of the gigantic problem they choose to ignore, as seen in New York City's schools:
Average scores, Grade 8 math, NaepThose data define a punishing state of affairs—but so what?. (For all Naep data, click here.) Because its reporters and editors are refined people who "went to the finest schools," you'll never see the size of that problem described in the New York Times.
New York City Public Schools, 2017
White students: 290.71
Black students: 255.63
Hispanic students: 263.56
Asian-American students: 306.03
Instead, you'll see headlines like these:
Recent headlines from the New York Times:All three headlines have appeared atop this front-page report from Monday's print editions. Those headlines direct your concern toward "tracking" and alleged "segregation," not toward the gigantic achievement gaps which constitute the modern-day problem we all live with.
Schools Cherry Pick, Leaving Minorities Behind
A Shadow System of Tracking by School Feeds Segregation
A Shadow System Feeds Segregation in New York City Schools
The problem we all happily live with, just to be more precise.
The New York Times wants to focus on "segregation." It will never, never, never report or discuss the enormous size of those gaps. You see, the finer people who constitute its staff don't live on the short end of those gaps. They direct you to finer problems, to concerns which are much more refined.
In Monday's front-page news report, attention was paid to the question of "tracking"—more precisely, to the practice of "tracking by school." The practice was described as "cherry picking" in the hard-copy headline that day.
Just for the record, "tracking" has long been a dirty word in pseudo-liberal circles. The pretty people who write our tribal novels associate "tracking" with racial injustice, even with "segregation."
With this association firmly in mind, we pseudo-liberals tend to rail against all forms of "tracking." Today, we want to help you understand why "tracking" exists in our schools.
Why does tracking exist in our schools? Why do some kids get taught a more high-powered curriculum—in high school math, let's say—while other kids are asked to navigate a less advanced course of study?
To answer your question, we're going to show you Gotham's gigantic achievement gaps—this time, without any reference to race or ethnicity.
This means that we'll have to deal with the concept of "percentiles." Cutting directly to the chase, this is the shape of those gaps:
New York City Public SchoolsThe Naep provides these data for a reason. Let's get clear on what those data mean.
Grade 8 math, 2017
Scores by percentiles, Naep
90th percentile: 329.72
75th percentile: 303.23
50th percentile: 272.76
25th percentile: 245.27
10th percentile: 222.66
First, those data represent scores achieved on the Naep by New York City's eighth-graders as one big happy family. Above, we showed you the average scores recorded by different "racial" or ethnic groups. These new data show the scores attained by Gotham's kids writ large, across the board.
As you can see, those data define enormous achievement gaps. At the 90th percentile, Gotham's eighth-graders racked up a score of 329.72. Lower down, at the tenth percentile, other Gotham eighth-graders scored a measly 222.66.
Given the way percentiles work, this means that the highest-achieving ten percent of Gotham's kids scored somewhere above 329. The lowest-achieving ten percent—the kids who are truly "struggling students"—scored somewhere below 223!
That's an achievement gap of 106 points on the rarely-consulted Naep scale. Judged by a very rough rule of thumb which loses all meaning at times like this, that would be described as a gap of ten academic years—with twenty percent of Gotham's kids separated by a gap even wider than that!
Basically, that ten-point metric loses utility in outlier situations like this. But we're looking at truly enormous achievement gaps when we look at numbers like these.
Here's what that fact means:
Suppose you decided to start a large neighborhood high school in Gotham. Let's suppose that, through meticulous micromanaging, your various students don't just "look like" New York. Let's suppose they also do math like New York!
That would mean that your neighborhood school will have to deal with those enormous gaps—with that enormous range of achievement in math. This brings us to our basic question:
Do you really think that the kids who scored above 329 should be taking the same ninth-grade math class as the kids who scored below 223? Does that actually seem to make sense?
Do you really think that all those kids should take the same "ninth grade math?" Or do you think your non-selective neighborhood school should decide to engage in "tracking"—should decide to teach a higher-powered curriculum for the higher-achieving kids, and a less advanced curriculum for the struggling kids who are years behind?
If you aren't completely insane, you will of course engage in some form of "tracking," dirty word though it may be. IF you aren't completely insane, you won't ask the kids who are struggling badly to take the same high-powered class as the kids who are scoring off the charts.
If you are completely nuts, you'll apply for a job at the New York Times. You'll ignore these realities altogether. Instead, you'll lobby for minor adjustments in the demographic numbers at certain Gotham schools.
You'll headline this piddle as "desegregation," patting yourself on the back as you do. In the process, you'll completely ignore the educational challenges defined by the data we've shown you. You'll also ignore the actual needs of the kids who so clearly are struggling.
You'll pretend the kids are all pretty much the same—that the kids can just study math "side by side," as one apparently delusional principal recently said in the Times, with no one questioning his unlikely statement.
Just to be clear, there's nothing unusual about the size of those (non-racial) achievement gaps. This isn't a New York City thing. Here are the corresponding data for the U.S. as a whole:
National public schools, all studentsThe scores are higher at each percentile, But the size of the gaps is roughly the same—enormous, very large.
Grade 8 math, 2017
Scores by percentiles, Naep
90th percentile: 332.44
75th percentile: 308.90
50th percentile: 281.67
25th percentile: 255.01
10th percentile: 232.10
The same holds true if we imagine a perfect nation, one in which the kids are all one "race" or ethnicity. Within each demographic group, those very large gaps obtain on the Naep. We offer this example:
National public schools, Asian-American studentsThose scores are much higher at all percentiles. But a very large gap still obtains.
Grade 8 math, 2017
Scores by percentiles, Naep
90th percentile: 361.47
75th percentile: 339.51
50th percentile: 311.63
25th percentile: 281.66
10th percentile: 253.56
Guess what, Times subscribers? This is what kids are like! More specifically, this is what eighth-graders are like here in the United States.
Some kids are better students than others. Some kids are much more athletic, or are much better dancers. Some can sing much better than others. Some kids are shorter, or taller.
And some know a lot more math! The idea that you'd teach them all the same "ninth grade math" will appeal to you if you're totally out of your mind, or if you're an unnamed editor at the New York Times.
Some kids know a lot more math! For today, let's apply this fact to Monday'a front-page report, though only in one basic way. We return to the highly bombastic claims of that cherry-picked parent from the Bronx, and to the preceding remark by Harris and Hu:
HU AND HARRIS (6/18/18): ...New York [City], in essence, has replaced tracking within schools with tracking by school, where children with the best records can benefit from advanced classes and active parent and alumni associations. According to the city, of the more than 830 middle schools and high schools, roughly 190 screen all of their students. Many of these screened schools are clustered in Manhattan and Brooklyn, with enrollments that are more white, Asian and affluent than the overall school population.Do children with the best records "benefit from advanced classes" at those selective schools? Presumably yes, they do!
Edwin Franco, a father of two girls who lives in the Bronx, said that too many selective schools cherry pick the best students—and deprive everyone else of opportunities. “They’re almost like a factory,” he said. “They’re churning out high-performing kids who are doing great while the rest of the kids are trying to figure it out on their own because they don’t have the same resources.”
Would Edwin Franco's daughters benefit from those advanced classes? Are they being "deprived of an opportunity" if they don't attend the schools which offer those courses?
There's no way to know that! But the vast majority of Gotham kids wouldn't "benefit" from being enrolled in such classes. They would instead be destined to fail if they were asked to take such courses. It would be a form of "legalized child abuse," to cite the quotable statement Harris and Hu cadged from another cherry-picked loudmouth in Monday's front-page report.
Should New York City run "highly selective" schools for high-achievers only? That's a matter of judgment.
We might be inclined to say no. But just for once, let's understand this bone simple fact:
If Gotham didn't perform that form of "tracking by school," it would have to "track within schools." It would have to track its ninth-grade students within its large neighborhood schools.
In New York, as everywhere else, tremendous achievement gaps obtain by the time kids reach ninth grade. By the time they reach ninth grade, New York's kids aren't all the same. When it comes to math achievement, they aren't anything like that!
The New York Times won't tell you that. They're prettier people than that. Their concerns are much more lofty.
God wants tracking in public schools. Those Naep scores basically prove it.
God didn't produce a planet full of kids who are all the same. For better or worse, God created a planet of kids with different ability levels—and with vastly different achievement levels by the end of fifth or eighth grade.
It's possible that better instruction, earlier on, would lead to fewer "struggling students." But the New York Times doesn't burden itself with complex questions like that. Instead, the New York Times wants to make minor adjustments in the demographics at certain schools, ignoring the fact that kids will then be tracked into "advanced classes" where white kids and Asian-American kids sit in the bulk of the seats.
The Naep reports scores by percentiles for a reason. That said, we can guarantee this—no one at the New York Times has ever examined such data.
In its public school reporting, the Times is a bunch of pretty people tinkering around the edges of reality. We'd call it "legalized child abuse," but Homey don't play that game.
Everybody praises the Naep, but no one reports its data! This is the elite journalistic world within which our floundering society is struggling to survive.
Next week: The gaps and the plans
Still coming: Gaps and excuses