Part 2—The Onion tries "desegregation:" How can test scores be so different from schools right in the same town? Let's review some recent results from three New York City schools:
New York State math test, Grade 8Those schools produced very different results. How can three middle schools in the same city produce such divergent performance?
2016-2017 school year:
New York City Middle School A
Average student proficiency rating: 3.88 (of maximum 4.5)
Percentage of students achieving proficiency: 86.2%
New York City Middle School B
Average student proficiency rating: 2.61 (of maximum 4.5)
Percentage of students achieving proficiency: 30.4%
New York City Middle School C
Average student proficiency rating: 2.11 (of maximum 4.5)
Percentage of students achieving proficiency: 3.8%
We liberals may turn to our favorite demons as we dash off our answers. In fact, in the case of Middle School A, the divergent results aren't hard to explain at all.
Middle School A is Booker T. Washington Middle School, a "highly selective" middle school whose students gain admission, at the start of sixth grade, through a combination of good grades and high test scores.
These kids were higher-achievers coming in. As those data show, they're also higher-achievers going out. There is no mystery to this pattern and process—except when the New York Times decides to find a mystery there.
Booker T. Washington has operated, of late, through a type of "tracking by school." Higher-achieving kids gain admission to the school. Once there, they pursue an advanced course of study.
Should the New York City Public Schools permit this type of "tracking by school?" That's a perfectly sensible question. It's also a matter of judgment.
One downside to this arrangement involves the question of "racial" and ethnic imbalance. This state of affairs is referred to, by our vastly moral though largely uncaring tribe, as "segregation." The term stirs liberal blood!
Given current realities, a school like Booker T. Washington will have more "white" and Asian-American kids than are found in the city's schools as a whole. Quite reasonably, this is widely seen as a downside of this type of school organization.
In New York City's District 3, our tribe has engineered a solution to this imperfect state of affairs. In a June 21 news report, the New York Times' Winnie Hu described the shape of the newly-adopted plan, which had long been debated.
In our view, "racial balance" is a very good thing in a public school, until such time as it isn't. Again and again in the past forty years, well-intentioned desegregation plans have led to anger, division and strife. Alas! Well-intentioned plans can sometimes produce lousy outcomes.
In the current circumstance, District 3's "desegregation plan" will affect the district's "highly selective" schools. With that in mind, it seems to us that this District 3 plan reads like a parody of a desegregation plan, perhaps as dreamed up by The Onion.
Hu's report started as shown below. The oddness of the District 3 plan was immediately apparent:
HU (6/21/18): New York City is moving ahead with a desegregation plan for middle schools that has drawn an outcry from some Upper West Side parents and heightened tensions over race and equity in one of the city’s most diverse and highly segregated school districts.Yes, you read that correctly! This plan is not designed to bring a larger number of higher-performing black and Hispanic kids into Booker T. Washington.
Middle schools in District 3, which stretches from the Upper West Side to Harlem, will be required to set aside a quarter of their sixth-grade seats for low income students with low test scores and grades beginning next spring, Richard A. Carranza, the schools chancellor, announced Wednesday.
The plan is intended to increase diversity in selective, high-performing middle schools like Booker T. Washington, where black and Hispanic students are underrepresented.
On the contrary! The plan is specifically designed to admit black and Hispanic kids "with low test scores and grades!" The plan is specifically designed to admit black and Hispanic kids who who are doing poorly in school.
Indeed, a higher-performing black student—a kid with good grades and good test scores—can't gain admission to Booker T through this desegregation plan. For a black kid to gain admission under this plan, he has to prove that he isn't a good student! If he doesn't have low grades and low test scores, that student need not apply!
In our view, this plan reads like something straight outta The Onion! Imagine what this plan will produce:
District 3 did not decide to do away with "highly selective" middle schools. District 3 did not decide to return to large "neighborhood schools," where everybody, of all types, reports to one big happy building.
District decided that Booker T. Washington would retain its status as a "highly selective" school. It just won't be quite as academically "selective" as it was before, and this comes with a very strange hitch.
Before, 100 percent of the school's kids came in as higher-achievers. Now, 75 percent of the school's kids will gain admission through high-achievement—and they'll be joined by a bunch of black and Hispanic kids who have to prove that they aren't good students in order to gain admission. The pre-existing high-achievers are joined by the Bad News Bears!
The micromanagers of District 3 think this will produce a good outcome. It seems to us that this semi-parodic plan was almost designed to engender racial stereotypes among this school's young students.
Seventy-five percent of the kids will be among Gotham's higher-achievers. They'll be joined by a bunch of kids who had to prove they were lower-performing in order to gain admission to the higher-performing school!
That strikes us as an odd approach! But as Hu explained in her report, all the District 3 proposals included this peculiar twist. In fairness, there's a reason for this state of affairs, which we'll explain below:
HU: The plan was chosen over three other options, which all aimed to give priority to low performing students but used different criteria. District school leaders initially unveiled a plan to focus on students who scored a 1 or 2—the lowest grade on a 1-to-4 scale—on state standardized English and math tests...All the District 3 proposals "aimed to give priority to low performing students!" This would almost seem funny, if it didn't seem potentially sad.
Other plans considered factors in addition to low test scores, such as course grades and the income level of the students at an elementary school.
The plan that was selected will set aside 25 percent of the seats at middle schools for students who qualify for free and reduced lunches, a widely accepted measure of poverty, and who are considered low performing based on their final fourth-grade English and math course grades and their scores on state English and math tests.
Question! Why on earth would District 3 want to take such a peculiar approach? If the district wanted to admit more black and Hispanic kids to a "highly selective" school, why wouldn't it try to admit higher-achieving black and Hispanic kids? Why would it deliberately seek kids who were struggling students?
Answer! As Harris and Hu have explained in the past, it's against the law to admit kids to a public school based on race. Since District 3 wanted to admit more black and Hispanic kids, it had to find some way to get around the law.
Presto! How do you find black kids within the New York City Public Schools without asking if they're black? Simple! You look for kids with low grades and low test scores who went to low-income schools! You siphon these struggling students into a "highly selective" middle school—a school which is teaching an advanced course of study to a bunch of higher-performing kids, the majority of whom are white and Asian.
Does anyone think this makes sense? Does anyone think this makes sense as an academic matter? Does anyone think this makes sense as a way to engender good racial understandings and attitudes among these 11-year-old kids?
To us, this plan reads like something straight outta The Onion. In part, that'e because we understand how large the achievement gaps actually are:
Scores by percentilesOof! On the 2017 Grade 4 Naep, there was an 82-point "achievement gap" between Gotham's 90th percentile kids and those at the 10th percentile. There was a 44-point gap just between the 75th and the 25th percentiles.
Grade 4 math, Naep, 2017
New York City Public Schools
90th percentile: 269.09
75th percentile: 251.60
50th percentile: 230.43
25th percentile: 207.50
10th percentile: 186.80
By all standard rules of thumb, these gaps in achievement are huge. But so what? Under its Rube Goldberg "desegregation plan," District 3 will be introducing a bunch of black kids from below the 25th and 10th percentiles into a "highly selective" school full of white and Asian kids who are at and above the 90th.
Given the actual size of the gaps, this makes no academic sense. To our eye, it looks like a cauldron for the development of rotten racial ideas among this school's young kids.
To our eye, this plan seems like a parody dreamed by The Onion. Those lower-achieving black kids will not be able to take a couple of make-up classes, then succeed with Booker T. Washington's pre-existing curriculum.
Absent in-school tracking (and, thus, in-school "segregation"), this plan looks like a prescription for academic failure. It comes to us, live and direct, from the long-standing world of pseudo-liberal incomprehension and insouciance.
How do those achievement gaps get so wide by the end of fourth grade? That's the kind of question our tribe's favorite liberal stars never ask or discuss.
We liberals quit on low-income minority kids a very long time ago. We don't know much about their situations, and we don't seem to care. As a result, we come up with plans like this "two Americas" plan.
At present, the New York Times is very excited about two "desegregation plans" for the New York City Public Schools. One deals with the city's "specialized high schools."
This is the other plan.
In the high school plan, the mayor seems determined to start an ugly race war. He cares about the top 5%, ignores everyone else.
In the District 3 middle school plan, the do-gooders and micromanagers have launched a plan which would almost be comical—except that great kids are involved. New York City is full or great kids. They deserve much better adults.
In District 3, the micromanagers seem to believe that the new, low-achieving kids will take a couple of makeup classes and get in the swing of things. Despite one principal's silly pledge about "learning side by side," that isn't going to happen.
The micromanagers don't seem to understand the size of those gaps! Their plan is built on the pile of fantasies we've pimped for the past fifty years.
Those fantasies stem from our insouciance. For decades, our tribe hasn't cared.
Next week: Gaps and fantasies