Back in the good old days: How good were California's schools back in the good old days?
According to Miriam Pawel, they were very good. Her op-ed column in yesterday's New York Times started off like this:
PAWEL (1/15/19): For decades, public schools were part of California’s lure, key to the promise of opportunity. Forty years ago, with the lightning speed characteristic of the Golden State, all of that changed.According to Pawel, the public schools in California were very, very good as late as 1978. According to Pawel, "all of that changed" starting in June 1978 when voters passed Proposition 13, substantially reducing funding to those public schools.
There was more! According to Pawel, desegregation-based busing that fall led white parents to remove some 30,000 kids from the Los Angeles public schools. The decline in the schools proceeded from there.
The decline proceeded from there. A bit later in her piece, Pawel describes it thusly:
PAWEL: Public education in California has never recovered, nowhere with more devastating impact than in Los Angeles, where a district now mostly low-income and Latino has failed generations of children most in need of help. The decades of frustration and impotence have boiled over in a strike with no clear endgame and huge long-term implications. The underlying question is: Can California ever have great public schools again?For decades before 1978, California actually had "great" public schools! Pawel proceeds to a question: Can the state have such great schools again?
Pawel ends her pieces on a gloomy note. That said, she returns to the idea that Cali had great schools Back Then:
PAWEL: [The current Los Angeles teachers] strike comes at a pivotal moment for California schools, amid recent glimmers of hope. Demographic shifts have realigned those who vote with those who rely on public services like schools. Voters approved state tax increases to support education in 2012, and again in 2016. In the most recent election, 95 of 112 school bond issues passed, a total of over $15 billion...When Pawel cites "recent glimmers of hope," she refers to funding issues alone. As she closes, she reminds us again of "the luster" of California's public schools Way Back When, in the decades preceding 1978.
If Los Angeles teachers can build on those gains, the victory will embolden others to push for more, just as teachers on the rainy picket lines this week draw inspiration from the successful #RedforEd movements around the country. The high stakes have drawn support from so many quarters, from the Rev. James Lawson, the 90-year-old civil rights icon, to a “Tacos for Teachers” campaign to fund food on the picket lines.
If this fight for public education in Los Angeles fails, it will consign the luster of California schools to an ever more distant memory.
People who seem to know nothing about public schools routinely recite some version of this "past golden age" story. Routinely, such people are routinely asked to discuss public schools in the New York Times. (Pawel has no apparent background in public education reporting.)
Pawel keeps saying, early and often, that California's public schools were "great," "a lure," back in The Good Old Days. At no point does she offer any statistical evidence to this effect.
That said, script-readers love to recite such claims, especially when asked to peddle pleasing tales in the New York Times. Readers have heard these tales so often that they will almost surely assume that they are true.
How good were Cali's public schools in 1971? More specifically, how well did low-income kids do in those schools? How about black kids? How about Hispanic children?
How good were California's schools back then? Like you, we don't have the slightest idea, and Pawel doesn't offer a stitch of evidence in support of her familiar claim, the one the hacks always recite.
Nor did her editors ask or require her to produce actual evidence. But then, this is the way our upper-end mainstream press corps rolls in this, the best of all possible failing democracies.
How good were the Golden State's public schools back in this golden era? We know of no reliable state-by-state statistical evidence dating from the decades in question. But just for the record, here are some data from the Long-Term Trends study, one branch of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (the Naep), the federal program which is typically regarded as our one reliable source of education data:
Average scores, Long-Term Trends, NaepIn the area of math, 1973 was this federal testing program's inaugural year. Testing was last administered in 2012. For all available data, you can just click here.
13-year-old students nationwide, math
How good were the nation's public schools in the era under discussion? Those scores from 1973 are nationwide average scores. The Naep can provide no data from individual states, including California, for those happy golden years.
That said, the nationwide scores from 1973 would be considered disastrous today. According to a very rough rule of thumb which is routinely applied to scores from the Naep, black and Hispanic 13-year-olds scored roughly three years lower in math in 1973 than their counterparts scored in 2012, the last time the Long-Term Trends assessment was administered.
Those nationwide scores from 1973 would be nightmares today. According to Pawel, it was totally different in California, though she and her editors present exactly zero evidence in support of this golden claim.
Tomorrow, we'll look at data from the past few decades for public school students in Los Angeles and California both. As we do, we'll return to Pawel's use of the phrase, "glimmers of hope."
For today, we'll only say this: We know of no reason to believe the familiar bedtime story with which Pawel put us to sleep in her column. Nor did she offer any evidence in support of her claim.
That said, Pawel's claims about Those Happy Golden Years are a familiar convention in the low-IQ world of know-nothing public school pseudo-reporting. If you wonder how it can possibly be that a person like Donald J. Trump currently sits in the White House, we'll suggest a related story:
Why is someone like Trump in the White House? In part, because people like Pawel have clogged our upper-end newsrooms for many decades now. Despite our species' comical status as Aristotle's "rational animal," we live inside a culture built on scripted tales and tribal dreams. Our culture runs on Chomsky's "manufactured consent," on Harari's "gossip" and "fiction."
That column was a tribal bedtime story in the form of journalistic exposition. It was also completely typical of New York Times public school work, and of the deeply disordered era which gave us our President Trump.
Please don't discuss his mental state. The Times has said we mustn't!