GAPS AND PLANS CONTINUED: Additional thoughts on the high school plan!

MONDAY, JULY 2, 2018

Part 1—Middle school plan tomorrow:
For those of you who lounged at the pool this weekend, we start today with a pop quiz, reviewing Saturday's work.

The pop quiz goes like this:

The New York City Public Schools operates eight "specialized high schools" for high-performing students. From which of these two middle schools would you expect more eighth-graders to get admitted to these academically high-powered high schools?
New York State math test, Grade 8
2016-2017 school year

Hypothetical Middle School A:

Average student proficiency rating: 2.61 (of maximum 4.5)
Percentage of students achieving proficiency: 30.4%

Hypothetical Middle School B:
Average student proficiency rating: 3.88 (of maximum 4.5)
Percentage of students achieving proficiency: 86.2%
Would you be shocked if more kids from Middle School B got admitted to the high-powered high schools? We wouldn't be shocked by that either!

Absent further explanation, we wouldn't be shocked at all! But in Saturday's New York Times, Harris and Hu (and their unnamed editor) tried to make readers think that the kids in Middle School A are getting shortchanged by current admission procedures.

They didn't report those test score results, which seem to suggest that the kids in Middle School B are outperforming their peers in Middle School A by a very large margin. Instead, they quoted the subjective assessment of one observer—and he was an interested party!

Whose assessment did they quote? They quoted the subjective assessment of the principal of Middle School B, which is actually the Rafael Hernandez Dual Language Magnet School in the Bronx, an admirable school whose kids don't seem to be doing as well as their peers at Hypothetical Middle School B.

Hypothetical Middle School B is actually Booker T. Washington Middle School, a school which was designed to enroll high-performing kids in the first place! On the basis of the subjective assessment by that one interested party, we were supposed to think that the excellent kids at Raymond Hernandez were getting shortchanged by current admission procedures.

Who in the world—who on Earth—performs journalism this way? Who disappears the most basic relevant data in favor of a subjective assessment by one interested party?

Your answer—the New York Times consistently plays it this way! Consider last Monday's full-page editorial by the Times editorial board.

The editors were voicing approval of Mayor de Blasio's peculiar "desegregation plan," in which he proposes kicking Asian kids out of the eight high-powered high schools in favor of black and Hispanic kids.

Rather than create additional seats at additional high-powered schools, the editors want to launch this race war over the city's "best schools" (their own headlined term). Sadly, here's one of the ways they helped us see how brilliant the mayor's proposal is:
NEW YORK TIMES EDITORIAL (6/25/18): Epiphane Lokossou, who emigrated to the United States from West Africa in 2010, said he couldn’t afford test preparation for his 13-year-old son Boris, who attends Lafayette Academy, a middle school in Manhattan.

Brian Zager, Lafayette Academy’s principal, described Boris as a standout student. But when he took the exam last year, he didn’t receive an offer from a specialized high school. Mr. Lokossou said the admissions process had failed to capture his son’s true potential. “It’s just one test,” he said. “It does not define who he is.”
Would 13-year-old Boris Lokossou benefit from the high-powered course of study at, let's say, The Bronx High School of Science? Like the "journalists" who sit on that board, we have no way of knowing!

We have no way of evaluating this one young person's level of preparation. But who except the New York Times would evaluate his preparation in the way the editors did—by publishing the subjective assessment of his father?

Who would actually do such a thing? Are these editors actually human?

In our view, Harris and Hu, and an unnamed editor, performed very poorly this weekend. There's no excuse for such journaism, which is actually a blend of dogma, propaganda and heavily novelized bathos.

Harris and Hu rate a failing grade; they may need to repeat the year. But their newspaper's august editorial board had just performed the very same way in Monday's gong-show editorial. And by the way, here are the data from Lafayette Academy, which we will refer to as Hypothetical Middle School C:
New York State math test, Grade 8
2016-2017 school year

Hypothetical Middle School B:

Average student proficiency rating: 3.88 (of maximum 4.5)
Percentage of students achieving proficiency: 86.2%

Hypothetical Middle School C:
Average student proficiency rating: 2.11 (of maximum 4.5)
Percentage of students achieving proficiency: 3.8%
Mr. Lokossou's 13-year-old son may well be a "standout student," as his principal said. There's no way to evaluate that claim from his school's overall testing data.

That said, it's journalistically crazy to advance this claim based on the testimony of his father and his principal, whose school has registered extremely low test scores. When the editore authored that ludicrous passage, they engaged in journalistic malpractice. All too often, this seems like the only kind of journalistic practice these practiced propagandists know.

(Please note: The principal isn't quoted saying that this student should have been admitted to one of the specialized high schools. File under "Journalistically slippery, slick.")

For today, we're going to leave it here. Tomorrow, we hope to review one more part of the Times editorial, along with one of the more comical aspects of the District 3 "desegregation plan," which has now been adopted.

The District 3 plan will change the way students are admitted to middle schools in that one community school district. In one major respect, it almost seems like a satirical offering from The Onion—but so it goes when our hapless liberal tribe attempts to interact with the actual world.

In theory, it would (perhaps) be a better world if enrollments at New York City's public schools exhibited a wider degree of racial and ethnic balance.

We say "in theory" because, in practice, attempts to create such outcomes have often led to enmity, turmoil, strife, dislocation and hatred. We say "perhaps" because it isn't clear that perfect "racial balance" in Gotham's schools would lead to improved academic performance, or to improved social understanding among the city's 1.1 million great kids (with a few lost souls thrown in).

In theory, it would be a better world! In practice, such planning will often show how utterly clueless we pseudo-liberals are.

This sort of thing also helps explain why some Trump voters voted the way they did. It very much helps explain the way our own vastly self-impressed tribe has helped produce our nation's current and disastrous new world order.

Our tribe is very unimpressive. If you doubt that, just look at the "journalism" widely displayed at the Hamptons-based New York Times.

No one says a word in our tribe. Truthfully, we don't really care, and we're too tribal to notice.

Tomorrow: That Texas plan, plus The Onion

For deep thinking only: Why do some Gotham middle schools seem to perform so much better than others? So we liberals might be inclined to ask.

We're forced to ask questions like that for several obvious reasons. The truth is, we've never cared enough about low-income kids to take the trouble to figure it out. Also, and very important:

Neither Rachel nor Lawrence cares about those low-income kids! So too with our many top "corporate liberal" stars!

Our tribe hasn't cared for a very long time. In fairness, we love to pretend!


  1. Somerby has his As and Bs mixed up at the beginning of today's post, where he first talks about the middle school principal. Whatever happened to proofreading?

    Meanwhile, this is what media criticism should look like:

    1. Here, for instance, are Howler posts from 2004 and 2008 which used that same technique:



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  2. "We say "in theory" because, in practice, attempts to create such outcomes [racial and ethnic balance] have often led to enmity, turmoil, strife, dislocation and hatred."

    That was certainly the argument put forward by segregationists to oppose the Brown v Board decision. That decision said that separate was inherently unequal. It essentially mandated integration of the schools, and by extension, other aspects of society. The "strife" and "dislocation" were seen as a painful but necessary part of the goal of removing the second-class stigma that had been imposed on black citizens. And the goal wasn't "racial balance", nor was it equality of outcome, but rather it was equality of opportunity.

    "it isn't clear that perfect "racial balance" in Gotham's schools would lead to improved academic performance"

    Somerby is being unclear when he says "improved academic performance". Does he mean academic achievement or achievement gaps? These are two separate issues.

    If he means "academic achievement", but not gaps, there is evidence that academic achievement can be improved by various methods, including mixing of student bodies based on academic and socioeconomic factors among others.

    As far as the gaps, contrary to what TDH readers may believe, there is copious research on achievement gaps spanning decades in academic circles. The consensus is that achievement gaps exist before children enter school, and that schools can't do much to change them, at least for a given cohort. There is evidence that the gaps persist even in racially mixed schools.

    In general, Somerby's focus on achievement gaps takes us outside the realm of what schools can actually do, and raises all kinds of difficult, almost intractable problems relating to socioeconomic and other factors that are politically contentious.

    Essentially, what NYC's screening process does is solidify the inevitable achievement gaps, ensuring that black and Hispanic students are shut out of academically high-performing schools essentially from birth.
    And that is a form of segregation.

    1. Specifically it's segregating incapable students from capable students.

      It's just crazily dishonest to deliberately conflate that with racial segregation.

    2. My point (I am anon 11:03) is to question your assumption of what "capable" means or implies. If what determines "capability" is a factor external to schools, and external to genetics, then it is our society that is segregated. We still have large percentages of black and now Hispanic children who are essentially prevented from achieving by factors that may be beyond their control.

      This is what segregation means. Millions of these kids do not have the opportunities that others do.

    3. @Anonymous 11:03, An interesting and worthwhile set of observations...thanks.

      Here's what struck me: "...focus on achievement gaps takes us outside the realm of what schools can actually do...". If (racial) achievement gaps cannot be fixed by schools, then presumably admitting more members of lower-scoring racial groups to the special high-schools is not going to fix those gaps either. With that in mind, what is the reason for wanting to admit more members of lower-scoring racial groups?

      If those scoring gaps are indeed immune to a schooling solution, then how can it be that what "...NYC's screening process does is solidify the inevitable achievement gaps"? Surely, the screening would leave the gaps unaffected...their being "inevitable".

      I fear this may seem like sophomoric "gotchas" to you...but that is not my intention. What I'm hoping to do is persuade you to state clearly the educational benefit to some group of students from the proposed changes in the admissions process. Perhaps the answer is none, but it would be interesting to see that made clear.

    4. @Anon 1:52...Yes! So much agreement!

      "...We still have large percentages of black and now Hispanic children who are essentially prevented from achieving by factors that may be beyond their control." Totally agreed!

      As an addendum, I would also say that we have significant, though smaller, percentages of whites and Asians for whom the same may be said. The families and cultures into which each of us is born have enormous effects on our ability to achieve academically.

      And, you say @11:03, there is little that schools can do to affect that. Perhaps...and disappointing if true.

      So...what is to be done? Changing the admissions process for the specialized schools would seem to have no beneficial effect, given these premises. Seeking to address the cultural factors that limit the opportunities for less fortunate children (of all races) seems challenging, but would at least address the fundamental issue. See, "headstart," for example. Finally, and most importantly, we need to ensure that our society has a place for all its members, irrespective of factors such as educational achievement...places of dignity and decent levels of material comfort. By comparison, mucking with the processes designed to elicit the highest contributions from those of our children with the most to offer just seems self-destructive, perhaps even a little spiteful.

    5. Mark, your questions are good ones. I can't really evaluate DeBlasio's specific plan that affects eight specific schools in one city in one state. It is possible that a certain set of students who would not have gotten in before but who now do may do fine. I.e. The academic achievement of those students may improve, plus it provides them with opportunities in later life that they might not have had before. It may give students in every middle school an impetus to do better, knowing that they might get into schools they might otherwise have missed out on. (This includes some white and even some Asian students).There are studies that show that, within a range, lower performers benefit from being in the same school/class with higher performers. At any rate, if after doing a cost-benefit analysis, the costs outweigh the benefits, then DeBlasio's plan probably ought to be opposed. But his plan isn't about narrowing achievement gaps, because it can't be.

      The real problem goes to the structural inequities in the NYC public school system. Due to all the screening (and NY does a lot of it), you end up creating what amount to private academies embedded within the public school system. The siphoning off of the most academically talented students to a subset of screened middle and then high schools turns low performing schools into lower performing schools, and thus exacerbates the existing structural problems. The history of school choice and charters is relevant here. And it's important to keep in mind the whole idea of providing free and public schools, and to ask if school screening is undermining that mission.

    6. @Anon 3:30: A second reply....this time on your second paragraph.

      I would phrase the issue you raise differently, and, I would argue, in a way that prejudges the answer less. Here's my formulation: The real question comes down to the best way to educate children with a very wide range of achievement...the achievement gaps that Somerby keeps referencing, and, I think you have agreed exist.

      It seems to me that there are three broad models of how to address this challenge: 1) track students into different schools by achievement, 2) Have mixed achievement schools, but track by achievement within the schools or 3) educate children with widely different achievements in the same classroom (track individual children!).

      Each approach has, it seems to me, strengths and weaknesses, and I remain open to persuasion as to which works best (and, of course, "best" is multi-dimensional, so there are choices to be made in its definition). I am old enough to remember when the progressive educational community seemed to argue (implausibly to my ear) that 3) was the way to go, but I seem to hear that much less now.

      However, it is clear what choice NYC has made; it has chosen 1). Choice 1) has a set of fairly obvious advantages if done right: children of widely differing achievement plausibly require substantially different teaching, so that schools with a narrower range of achievement can focus better. Kids of similar ability can engage with, and encourage, one another more easily. Those performing worst may not feel happy about their performance, but they would not be faced daily with peers performing at wildly different levels.

      At the same time, there are disadvantages and risks to 1). It is regularly argued that lower-achieving kids are demoralized by being in the "bad" school. That's plausible, although I'm always a bit surprised that this effect seems to outweigh the demoralization of having to confront "young Sheldon" every day at a mixed achievement school. (I'm happy to let the data, honestly analyzed, determine that one). There is also a risk that one segment of the achievement spectrum (most likely the low end) is under-resourced, but that's a risk in all three models. And, as we all agree, choice 1) naturally means that, for the foreseeable future, different schools will, sadly, end up with very different racial make-ups.

      However...NYC has clearly made the choice to go with 1). That means accepting schools with very different racial characteristics in order to get the other benefits. It makes no sense to make choice 1), and then try to shoe-horn a racially homogenizing process on top. As we all seem to agree, the racial achievement gaps are just too large.

      De Blasio and Carranza could make the argument that choice 1) was a mistake...that we should not have special high schools at all...we should not have the achievement tracking that, as you say, permeates the whole system. They could propose a plan to convert the system to something closer to choices 2) or 3), daunting though that would be. But it is hard to make sense of the idea of special high schools for the highest achievers that are artificially made racially representative.

  3. @Anon 3:30: "I can't really evaluate DeBlasio's specific plan that affects eight specific schools in one city in one state". That's fair enough...neither can I...but I do think it's incumbent on de Blasio and Caranza to make the case for what they're clear at least on what they are trying to do, and why that's the right thing to do. To my ear, it really sounds as if the argument is simply that there aren't enough blacks and Hispanics being admitted, so we'll arrange to admit more, as if that were self-evidently better. Your hypotheses that follow the opening sentence I quoted would, if supported by honest analysis, constitute arguments that I might find convincing...but a) I don't believe those analyses have been done and b) I have become cynical enough of us liberals on matters of race that I lack confidence that such analyses, if performed, would be performed with integrity. Alas, in these matters, Liberals, like conservatives on other topics have come to use analysis in the way a drunk uses a lamp-post...for support rather than illumination.

    It is worth noting that the Board of Ed has access to data that could be quite convincing of certain hypotheses: If, for example, blacks and Hispanics admitted to the special schools out-performed their SHSAT scores, then that would suggest that the test was indeed disadvantaging them in measuring their future performance...that although perhaps less well prepared, they are in fact able to take as full advantage of the special schools as their higher scoring competitors.

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