Extraordinary reporting: As you can probably tell, we could talk about Erica Green's front-page report for weeks.
We refer to Green's recent report in the New York Times about the latest Little Low-Income School That Could—the new I Promise School in Akron, an experimental elementary school which is being substantially (and generously) funded by NBA star LeBron James.
Green's report was so instructively awful that we could discuss it for weeks. For today, let's focus on a basic question:
Why haven't they all been frog-marched away?
We probably refer to Green herself, but we definitely refer to her editors. It was Green's editors who waved paragraph 3 into print, perhaps rewriting it as they did. That paragraph seems to contain a very large, loudly howling misstatement:
GREEN (4/13/19): This time last year, the students at the school—Mr. James’s biggest foray into educational philanthropy—were identified as the worst performers in the Akron public schools and branded with behavioral problems. Some as young as 8 were considered at risk of not graduating.According to that paragraph, the students at the I Promise School "were identified [last year] as the worst performers in the Akron public schools." This apparently bogus claim sets up the narrative arc of Green's "news report," in which, in familiar old fashion, The Bad News Bears Knock It Out of the Park at Their Amazing New Low-Income School.
People like Green have been typing that story since the day time began. There's probably a version of this tale in The Iliad, though our analysts haven't been able to take the time to check.
Last year, the students at the I Promise School were Akron's worst performers! Green's editors waved that claim into print, even though it seems to be blatantly wrong. We base that upon the statement which appears much later, in paragraph 23:
GREEN: I Promise students were among those identified by the district as performing in the 10th to 25th percentile on their second-grade assessments. They were then admitted through a lottery.Twenty paragraphs later, we seem to be told that kids performing below the 10th percentile were excluded from the lottery for this new school. For reasons we explained yesterday, we'll guess that means that as many as the bottom twenty percent of Akron's "worst performers" were excluded from this exciting new school.
This would mean that the kids at this school weren't the worst performers! It would mean that they weren't even close.
Based on paragraph 23, last year's "worst performers" were excluded from the lottery for this new school. There's nothing "wrong" with creating a new school in that way, though it does seem to represent a type of "tracking"—a type of tracking the New York Times claims to loathe when it appears in Gotham.
That said, as a general matter, the New York Times only pretends to write about public schools. At the Times, it's childish narrative all the way down, in which our achievement gaps are caused by "test prep" (full stop) and our Bad News Bears Knock It Out of the Park as soon as they get half a chance.
To relocate that pleasing old fable to Akron, Green's editors waved that opening claim into print, in which the kids at the I Promise School were Akron's "worst performers." They also allowed a fraudulent fairy tale to appear at the end of Green's lengthy report:
GREEN: Lining the walls of the school’s vast lobby are 114 shoes, including those worn during the 2016 season when Mr. James led the Cleveland Cavaliers to the N.B.A. championship, a reminder that he once walked a path similar to these students. Mr. James was also considered at risk; in fourth grade, he missed 83 days of school.Truly, that's extraordinary! Everyone knows that a novelized "news report" of this type must end with some heartwarming story about some deserving kid who has Quickly Turned It Around at Her Thrilling New School.
Nataylia Henry, a fourth grader, missed more than 50 days of school last year because she said she would rather sleep than face bullies at school. This year, her overall attendance rate is 80 percent.
“LeBron made this school,” she said. “It’s an important school. It means that you can always depend on someone.”
In this case, the editors published a suspiciously jumbled presentation about a fourth-grade girl who is missing twenty percent of school—a rate which doubles the state of Ohio's criterion for "chronic absenteeism."
That passage constitutes an act of fraud committed against Times subscribers. This leads us to our obvious question:
Why haven't the editors who waved that into print already been frog-marched away?
Why haven't they been frog-marched away? Also, why hasn't Times "education reporter" Eliza Shapiro been frog-marched away for making this astonishing statement on NPR's All Things Considered?
CHANG (3/19/19): So what have been the explanations for why these stark racial disparities exist at these eight elite schools?There are "two things," Shapiro told Chang. Enrollment patterns at Gotham's most demanding high schools are caused by "test prep" and by test "awareness," full stop.
SHAPIRO: Yeah, so I think there's two things. The biggest issue here is test prep. We've seen the same debate with the SAT and ACT, certainly, in light of the college admissions scandal. There is a huge test prep industry in New York that prepares kids who are aware of the test to master it. So test prep is one. The other, which is related, is awareness. Some kids know about these schools from the minute they're in kindergarten. Some kids learn about the existence of the specialized high school system and the test to get into them a few months before they can sit to take the test.
Gotham's giant achievement gaps apparently play no role in this undesirable phenomenon! According to the Times, achievement gaps are real in Akron, but they play no role in the lives of public school kids in New York.
Do we have any idea why nonsense like that is tolerated at the Times, and at NPR? After all, why hasn't Chang been frog-marched away for letting Shapiro's manifest nonsense go unchallenged?
Despite her degrees from Stanford, Oxford and Stanford Law School, Chang allowed that perfect nonsense to stand. Why hasn't she been frog-marched away and told that she's finished too?
We ask these questions to highlight a basic point. Much of what we liberals read or hear from our upper-end news orgs are novelized accounts of the world.
They aren't "news reports" at all. At their heart, they're novelized feel-good tales, told by the functional equivalent of a gang of idiots.
Such tales are fed to our self-impressed tribe on a regular basis. As a group, we swallow them down. Elsewhere, people roll their eyes and decide to vote for Trump.
Sometimes, the foolishness of our upper-end "journalists" provides a bit of amusement. So it was in this comical passage from Green's front-page tale:
GREEN: The 90 percent of I Promise students who met their goals exceeded the 70 percent of students districtwide, and scored in the 99th growth percentile of the evaluation association’s school norms, which the district said showed that students’ test scores increased at a higher rate than 99 out of 100 schools nationally.Yes, you're allowed to laugh.
According to Green's report, the I Promise students "scored in the 99th growth percentile of the evaluation association’s school norms." Instead of simply telling readers what that meant (or assuming that readers already knew), Green was apparently forced to report what "the district" said it meant!
The district said that scoring in the 99th percentile showed that the I Promise School had outperformed 99 out of 100 schools nationally? Simply put, that's what it means to score in the 99th percentile! Why would anyone have to rely on "the district" to explain what it meant?
We'll guess that Green's editors inserted that amusing construction into her text. Why haven't these editors been frog-marched away? How long will foolishness of this type be allowed to persist?
There are other topics we haven't been able to get to this week. We still haven't explored the instructive incompetence of the indecipherable "School Report Cards" used by the Ohio Department of Education to report on that state's schools and school districts.
Here's the School Report Card for the Akron Public Schools. Prepare yourselves to be confused, then perhaps depressed.
That bungled bureaucratic maze makes it very hard to evaluate Akron's schools as a whole. It does help us ponder the part of the I Promise story which truly is "extraordinary:"
It's much too early to determine how things are going at the I Promise School. The students at the I Promise School haven't even taken their first set of the state of Ohio's annual tests. No one but the New York Times would be silly enough to step in at this point and make a thrilling assessment.
That said, the Times' assessment isn't a real attempt at reporting. It's the latest silly, heartwarming version of a long-standing feel-good fable, in which The Bad News Bears Hit It Out of the Park as soon as they're given a chance.
This tale has been written again and again over the past fifty years. Future Psychologists of the Savanna (TM), a pipe-puffing group of future scholars reporting from the aftermath of Mister Trump's War, tell us that this familiar story was told and retold, year after year, for two major reasons:
According to these future psychologists, the silly tale was told and retold to let us liberals pretend that we actually care about the nation's black kids.
Also, to let us feel there's no real problem we have to struggle to solve within our nation's low-income schools—to let us pretend that the kids are really all right in those schools as soon as they get half a chance.
Are the kids at the I Promise School all right? Not necessarily, no.
According to the end of Green's report, children who are chronically absent are the big break-out stars in that school! Green's editors waved that passage into print, seeming to commit an act of deliberate deception.
Just a guess! Assuming the absence of cheating, there will be no "extraordinary results" when those good, decent Akron kids take their statewide tests this spring. That said, Akron's new school has already produced one "extraordinary result:"
We refer to Green's front-page report! It seems to be an act of bad faith and technical confusion from its third paragraph on.
Are the kids all right at the I Promise School? Not necessarily, no.
That said, many adults at the New York Times are doing substantially worse. They're churned these fables for many years. When they do, we self-impressed liberals just swallow them whole. According to those future psychologists, we like the heartwarming stories we're told, and we aren't able to see that they're silly.
We liberals! We love to say how bright we are, but there is no child at the I Promise School who's under-performing to the extent that our upper-end journalists are.
As a rank and file, we gobble their tribal porridge down. Other people decide they'll just vote for Trump, who was saying "fake news" all along.
Perhaps some time next week: A look at those indecipherable "Ohio School Report Cards"