Math gains through the roof: What happened to achievement patterns in public schools after the Brown decision?
That question encompasses a 65-year span. In Sunday's New York Times, Nikole Hannah-Jones constructed the Standard Pleasing Fable concerning what has occurred.
Some of what Hannah-Jones wrote in her lengthy report was accurate. A good chunk of what she wrote pretty much was not. As always, the lives and the interests of the nation's black kids got thrown under [the story our team likes to tell concerning the use of] the bus.
In yesterday's report, we posted several passages which define the Hannah-Jones story line. This was her nugget account concerning what happened in the nation as a whole after the Brown decision:
HANNAH-JONES (7/14/19): We now know that school desegregation significantly reduced the test-score gap between black and white children—cutting it in half for some black age groups without harming white children. No other reform has reduced the gap on this scale. Rather, the opposite is true: The test-score gap between black and white students reached its narrowest point ever at the peak of desegregation and has widened as schools have resegregated.In some respects, we'd score that account as true. In some respects, our grading would be less generous.
We'll look at that global account in the next few days. For today, let's consider Hannah-Jones' account of what has happened in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg (N.C.) Schools (CMS) in the past four or five decades.
Currently, CMS is the nation's 18th-largest school district. For several decades, it engaged in large-scale busing as a result of a major 1971 court order.
According to Hannah-Jones, this is the CMS story up to the present day. This helps flesh out her larger account of what occurred nationwide:
HANNAH-JONES: [T]o say busing—or really, mandated desegregation—failed is a lie.Once again, here's what we've been told:
It transformed the South from apartheid to the place where black children are now the most likely to sit in classrooms with white children. It led to increased resources being spent on black and low-income children. There’s a story black people ruefully tell of the day they knew integration was coming to a black high school in Charlotte, N.C.: A crew of workers arrived to fix up the facilities because now white children would be attending. This is how two-way busing worked and why integration was necessary—white people would never allow their children to attend the types of inferior schools to which they relegated black children.
For years, North Carolina’s Charlotte-Mecklenburg schools, where the community decided to make busing work, were some of the most integrated in the country, and both black and white students saw achievement gains. The district was forced to return to neighborhood schools after a white family brought down the desegregation order, and Charlotte is now the most segregated district in North Carolina. We should question why in the narrative of busing we remember Boston but not Charlotte.
During the era of mandated busing, Charlotte-Mecklenburg's schools "were some of the most integrated in the country." During this era, "both black and white students saw achievement gains," we're told.
In support of these claims, Hannah-Jones links to this 57-page report by the National Assessment of Education Progress (the Naep). Unfortunately, that report doesn't say a single word, or present a single statistic, about anything that has happened in Charlotte-Mecklenburg's schools at any point in time.
In Charlotte-Mecklenburg, did "both black and white students" record "achievement gains" during the era of busing? That Naep report doesn't say.
That Naep report does present test score data, in both reading and math, for the nation's kids as a whole. Depending on which years you want to cherry-pick, we'd say that some of Hannah-Jones' claims are true, while some are misleading or maybe even false.
More on that tomorrow. For today, let's consider more recent data from the Naep—data which tell us what has happened in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools in this current era of "resegregation."
In our view, it would be better if kids went to school with kids of varied "races" and ethnicities. According to Hannah-Jones, this dream has died in Charlotte-Mecklenburg, which "is now the most segregated district in North Carolina."
We don't know if that latter assessment is accurate. We're not even entirely sure what it means.
That said, we'll assume the claim is essentially true. As we told you on Monday, the claim derives from this study by the North Carolina Justice Society, to which Hannah-Jones fails to provide a sound link.
According to Hannah-Jones, CMS "is now the most segregated district in North Carolina." According to that study, the hyper-resegregated district "would need to re-assign 55 percent of its students to achieve racial parity across its schools."
More than half the system's kids would have to move to a different school! Meanwhile, what has happened to academic achievement in this era of "resegregation?"
Uh-oh! CMS math scores seem to have have gone through the roof during the era in question! Whether compared to the rest of the state, or to the nation as a whole, black and white kids in CMS schools have recorded remarkable gains.
This is one of the stories you weren't told in Hannah-Jones' fabulized, feel-bad account. That said, the data sit right before us in the Naep's extremely detailed, largely unreviewed data.
Let's take a look at those data! First, though, a quick bit of background:
Ever since 2003, CMS has participated in the Naep's Trial Urban District Assessment. Within this program, the Naep has been able to publish statistically reliable data for several dozen large school systems, including those in New York City, Los Angeles and Chicago.
As such, the Naep has reading and math scores for CMS from 2003 through its most recent testing in 2017. This corresponds to the era of "resegregation" in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools.
Uh-oh! Despite what you've been encouraged to believe, score gains in math have gone through the roof in CMS during this period! That's true "for both black and white students." In grade 8 math, the score gains look like this:
Gains in average scoresFor all Naep data, start here.
Grade 8 math, Naep, 2003-2017
Black kids, CMS: 12.35 points
Black kids nationwide: 7.85 points
Black kids, state of North Carolina: -1.54 points
White kids, CMS: 14.51 points
White kids nationwide: 5.62 points
White kids, state of North Carolina: 1.47 points
You're reading those data correctly. During that 14-year period, the average score of North Carolina's black kids actually went down in grade 8 math, if only slightly.
In "the most segregated district in the state," black kids' average score went through the roof. Based on a standard though very rough rule of thumb, black eighth-graders in CMS progressed by more than one academic year in math during that 14-year period.
CMS is a somewhat unusual urban/suburban school district. For that reason, we'll also show you the gains by the district's lower-income black kids (by kids who qualify for the federal lunch program):
Gains in average scoresHere too, CMS kids progressed by more than one academic year while their peers across the state were losing a bit of ground. Data like these complicate the pretty tale Hannah-Jones seemed to be telling.
Grade 8 math, Naep, 2003-2017
Lower-income black kids, CMS: 11.21 points
Lower-income black kids nationwide: 8.44 points
Lower-income black kids, North Carolina: -1.26 points
Alas! In the most segregated school district in the whole state, grade 8 math scores went through the roof during the era of resegregation. Black and white students both gained, and the recorded gains were large.
Good lord! There's no way to know, but based upon these Naep data, it's entirely possible that "the most segregated district in the state" actually recorded the highest math gains in the whole state during this era. This complicates the story Hannah-Jones chose to tell while citing the Naep as her source.
Also, it's Hannah-Jones who focused on CMS. That was her choice, not ours.
In our view, it would be better if kids went to school with kids of varying "races" and ethnicities. If we can bus in kids from Nepal, we'd like to see it done.
On the other hand, our nation contains some very large urban school systems—New York City first among them—whose student demographics will never permit the Leave It To Beaver-era racial balance which polemicists at the New York Times apparently dream of during their five-day Hamptons weekends.
Gotham's black and Hispanic kids will never be going to school with Wally and the Beav seated on either side. If those data from CMS are real, you'd almost think we'd want to know what that hyper-"segregated" school system has actually been doing in its math instruction.
That said, we very rarely show any signs of wanting to know such things. As "humans," we more reliably want to persist with our memorized novels, with our tribally pleasing tales.
In certain major respects, Hannah-Jones presented a tribally pleasing tale this Sunday. Concerning the interests of black and Hispanic kids, those interests get thrown under a certain fabulized bus when we insist on pleasing ourselves with our gloomy stories.
Not unlike Homer of old, we memorize and repeat these stories. Whose interests get served by that?
Tomorrow: National patterns