The role of basic facts: In his column this Sunday, Nicholas Kristof reminded us of the type of issue we simply never hear discussed on our favorite "cable news" channels.
Those channels exist to sell viewers The Chase. Other topics can just go hang in the yard.
On Saturday morning, the Washington Post ran an intriguing letter about our public school "achievement gaps." The letter helps illustrate how poorly we citizens and news consumers may understand basic facts concerning major topics.
The letter came from a DC-area professor. It went exactly like this:
LETTER TO THE WASHINGTON POST (5/4/19): Achievement gaps between groups in the United States remain a major educational problem. Unfortunately, the April 20 Metro article “Report shows disparity in success,” about the achievement gaps in Montgomery County Public Schools, obfuscated this important issue by focusing on ethnic group differences in achievement and not simultaneously considering the role of socioeconomic status. Such research shows that (on average) students from poorer backgrounds do less well in school than wealthier students. A higher percentage of Latino and African American children are poor compared with their white counterparts. The article focused on Latino, African American and “disadvantaged” students as discrete groups, rather than presenting the complex interplay of ethnicity and economics.The letter suggests that prevailing gaps between different "racial" and ethnic groups are mainly an artifact of family income. Within prevailing pseudo-liberal understanding, that counts as happy talk.
Comparisons across ethnic groups should be made only when socioeconomic status also is considered or controlled statistically. Not doing so results in erroneous conclusions about the causes of performance differences, which can reinforce stereotypes that certain ethnic groups just don’t do well in school. Such stereotypes are harmful to members of the stereotyped group themselves, as psychologist Claude Steele’s research on “stereotype threat” clearly indicates.
That said, to what extent are achievement gaps an artifact of family income? Here are some chastening basic data from the most recent administration of the National Assessment of Educational Progress:
Average scores, Grade 8 mathFor all Naep data, start here.
Nationwide public schools, 2017 Naep
Higher-income white students: 299.74
Lower-income white students: 275.28
Higher-income black students: 272.71
Lower-income black students: 255.02
Higher-income Hispanic students: 280.22
Lower-income Hispanic students: 264.22
Higher-income Asian-American students: 320.52
Lower-income Asian-American students: 289.26
Perhaps some better data exist somewhere. But as you can see, lower-income white students slightly outperformed higher-income black students on this Naep math test. Based on a conventional though very rough rule of thumb, lower-income Asian-American students outperformed higher-income black kids by well more than one academic year.
In Naep data, as in most standard educational data, the income levels to which we refer are based on eligibility for the federal free and reduced price lunch program. The "lower-income" kids to whom we refer are those who are eligible for this program. "Higher-income" kids are not.
That letter in the Washington Post seemed to feed a favorite liberal narrative. Basic data from the most recent Naep seem to say something more gloomy.
On the more uplifting side, the Washington Post and the New York Times will never report on a gloomy topic like this. It simply isn't done! Meanwhile, you'll see public schools discussed by Rachel after she's banked her first billion.
On cable, it's all about the thrill of The Chase. No other topic need apply. The thrill of The Chase really sells, and low-income children do not, unless they're packaged in a brain-dead version of the familiar mainstream classic, The Bad News Bears Knock It Right Out of the Park.
Low-income children don't sell. So too with the topic of Kristof's column. Michael Cohen draped in chains is much more delicious, more fun.
We're just showing you how it works. You can decide how you feel.