From today's front page: How are Native American kids doing in school?
Atop the fold on today's front page, the New York Times attempts to explain. We don't think the Times did the world's greatest job. Let's start with some basic data.
The Times focuses on Wolf Point High School, a small school in rural Montana. In fact, Wolf Point High is quite small. In the 2015-16 school year, total enrollment seems to have been 217 for grades 9-12.
In that particular year, 57 percent of the students were listed as Native American; 19 percent of the students were listed as white. Another 19 percent were listed as "two or more races." These elementary facts about this small school don't appear in the Times report.
As Green and Waldman begin their report, they focus on one student at Wolf Point High. This student has had major psychological difficulties, including attempts at suicide.
Stating the obvious, this young person deserves to be helped in every way possible. Quickly, though, the Times uses her difficulties as a way to provide this overview:
GREEN AND WALDMAN (12/29/18): Her despondency is shared by other Native students at Wolf Point and across the United States. Often ignored in the national conversation about the public school achievement gap, these students post some of the worst academic outcomes of any demographic group, which has been exacerbated by decades of discrimination, according to federal reports.Native American kids "post some of the worst academic outcomes of any demographic group?" We wondered how bad the academic outcomes actually are for these kids.
In our view, the Times does its usual slapdash job explaining that basic point. Here are the most recent and most basic data, derived from our most reliable domestic testing program:
Average scores, Grade 8 math, 2017 NaepFor all Naep data, start here.
All students: 281.96
White students: 292.16
Black students: 259.60
Hispanic students: 268.49
Asian-American students: 309.52
American Indian/Native Alaskan students: 268.24
Average scores, Grade 8 reading, 2017 Naep
All students: 265.33
White students: 273.75
Black students: 248.37
Hispanic students: 254.60
Asian-American students: 281.19
American Indian/Native Alaskan students: 252.71
For many years, we routinely offered some very rough rules of thumb for interpreting the size of those "achievement gaps" on the Naep. Finally understanding the way our society works, we no longer waste our time doing things like that.
We'll only note a few basic facts. According to our most reliable data, our black kids are doing less well, on average, in reading and math than our Native American kids.
According to those Naep results, the gap in math is almost one year! This is a very basic fact, one which is missing from the Times report.
Meanwhile, our Hispanic kids are doing about as well, on average, as our Native American kids. As the Times entertains and pleases readers with tales about the mistreatment of Native American kids, we'd say its readers should have been given this basic frame of reference.
What explains the punishing achievement gaps which obtain, on average, between various groups of American kids? That's a very important question, one which is typically submerged beneath pleasing novelized narratives like the one which appears today, in which a small rural school full of fallible people is novelized as the cause of children attempting to kill themselves.
In our view, the despair which has children taking, or attempting to take, their own lives deserves a much more serious treatment than the one which appears today. That said, New York Times education reporting has long been a novelized rolling disgrace. We're fed the stories which make us feel good, which play to preferred tribal narratives.
Why don't Native kids do better in school? We'd love to see a serious attempt to address that deeply important question.
That said, our black kids, on average, are actually doing somewhat worse than our Native American kids, even after decades of improvement! This is a very basic, very important fact of American life. Nowhere in today's report did the pair of Times reporters provide this basic frame of reference.
A second perspective: At one point, the Times reporters manage to state some basic facts. We'll guess that very few readers knew the highlighted facts:
GREEN AND WALDMAN: While the Interior Department’s Bureau of Indian Education runs about 180 Native-only schools, more than 90 percent of Native students attend integrated public schools near or on reservations, like Wolf Point. A wealth of rarely tapped data documents their plight.The vast majority of Native American kids attend "integrated public schools near or on reservations." A much smaller percentage attend "Native-only schools" run by the Bureau of Indian Education (BIE).
In public schools, white students are twice as likely as Native students to take at least one advanced placement course, and Native students are more than twice as likely to be suspended, according to an analysis of federal civil rights data conducted by ProPublica and The New York Times. Native students also score lower than nearly all other demographic groups on national tests, and only 72 percent of Native students graduate, the lowest of any demographic group.
Most Times readers wouldn't have known that. For ourselves, we clicked one of the Times reporters' links. Wading through a lengthy report, we saw some remarkably terrible data from those BIE schools.
The report in question was issued by the Obama administration in December 2014. It offered this overview concerning those two types of schools for Native American kids:
OBAMA ADMIN REPORT (12/14): The vast majority of Native students—92 percent—attend local public schools operated by state and local educational authorities. States have a responsibility to educate all students who live within the state’s borders, including students who are members of Indian tribes. The other 8 percent of Native students—approximately 41,600—are enrolled in 183 federally-funded Bureau of Indian Education schools. These schools are located on 63 reservations in 23 states.According to this Obama Admin report, only eight percent of Native kids were attending those BIE schools. (Wolf Point High is not a BIE school.)
That said, those BIE schools seem to produce extremely low test scores. These are the data which appear within, or can be derived from, that 2014 report (see graphic, page 16):
Average scores, Grade 4 reading, 2013 NaepJudging from the Obama Administration report, Native American kids at BIE schools were producing much lower test scores than their Native American peers at locally-run schools.
All students: 220.67
White students: 230.91
Black students: 205.13
Hispanic students: 206.54
Asian-American students: 236.53
American Indian/Native Alaskan students: 205.97
Students at BIE schools: roughly 180
The achievement gap there was very large. What is, or isn't, taking place at those BIE schools?
Coming Monday: These presidential historians today!