Until you read The Atlantic (The Short): As we noted yesterday, Miriam Jordan has presented a profile of the Lake Worth, Florida public schools which is deeply humane and intelligent.
Her report concerns the challenges which may be faced by public schools with lots of immigrant kids.
Jordan's intelligent, humane report appeared in Wednesday's New York Times! Setting that major surprise to the side, we'd consider quibbling with one part of this passage:
JORDAN (7/10/19): South Grade Elementary illustrates the challenges. There are children like 8-year-old Sherly Perez, who crossed the border with her father and lives in a room at her aunt’s house. One child lives with 10 other people in a house with just one bathroom. Some fourth and fifth graders have been suicidal and depressed, school officials say.Jordan refers to Ana Arce-Gonzalez, "the principal at South Grade Elementary School in the heart of Lake Worth’s immigrant enclave."
A quarter of the children last year who enrolled at the school in third grade, the grade during which the state tests student progress in reading and math, were newcomers. Only 11 percent of kindergartners were assessed as “kindergarten ready” when they started school.
Dayvin Mungia, the second grader who had never attended school, was one of several students who were taught numbers and letters on the side by his teacher when the rest of the class was engaged in other activities.
Ms. Arce-Gonzalez decided it was vital to offer year-round instruction if children were to have any hope of catching up...
Arce-Gonzalez is one of the "righteous Gentiles" portrayed by Jordan is her deeply humane piece. In Jordan's portrayal, Arce-Gonzalez is working around the clock to help these deserving kids who have recently arrived from the south.
Having said that, we will also say this:
Depending on what we mean by the term, it isn't likely that kids who start so far behind will ever be "catching up."
Will Dayvin Mungia, 7 years old, ever "catch up" to our national norms? Will he ever "catch up" to the native-born Florida kids who will score near the top of the SAT/ACT charts when they finish high school?
The odds suggest that he won't. This helps explain this basic set of Naep data:
Scores by percentile, American public schoolsLet's make sure we understand what those statistics mean:
Grade 8 math, Naep, 2017
90th percentile: 332.44
75th percentile: 308.90
50th percentile: 281.67
25th percentile: 255.01
10th percentile: 232.10
On the most recent Naep math test, ten percent of the nation's eighth-graders scored above 332. But on the same test, ten percent of their classmates scored below 232!
Almost surely, those numbers define an enormous "achievement gap." The gap is so large that standard "rules of thumb" break down if we attempt to quantify the size of the gap.
In short, our nation's eighth-graders are not all alike. They can't all be taught the same "eighth-grade math," with a bit of extra help for those who are lagging a bit behind.
Those data define a basic reality found in our public schools—but so do the data shown below. These data describe the gains, not the gaps:
Gains in average scores, 1996-2017The gaps on the Naep are huge. But the gains have also been very large. Consider Hispanic kids:
American public schools, Grade 8 math, Naep
White kids: 12.66 points
Black kids: 20.32 points
Hispanic kids: 19.31 points
Asian-American kids: 22.06 points (2000-2017)
Applying a standard though very rough rule of thumb, Hispanic kids outperformed their forerunners by almost two academic years over the course of the 21 years encompassed by those data.
Those overall gains were being recorded even as schools were being challenged by deserving kids like Dayvin Mungia. Or by traumatized kids like Jakelin Raquek, just 4 years old, who "was making steady progress in her pre-K class until her father was arrested by immigration agents in front of her, and later deported."
Or by the child in Jackson, Wyoming who "constantly cried, worrying that his grandmother was going to be killed back in El Salvador and that he would never see his parents again." Those test scores rose in the manner described even as our public schools dealt with challenges like these.
What explains these various data, in which the gaps and the gains are both quite large? We have no idea! Our most lordly newspaper, the New York Times, assigns its public school reporting to vastly over-privileged children of the New York Times/Columbia class. They peddle their pleasing tribal fairy tales and commit journalistic scams.
They hand you dreck from the realm of the dream or the tale. Then too, we have The Atlantic, which doesn't seem able to quit scripting of the type shown below, gloomy headlines included:
WEXLER (8/19): Elementary Education Has Gone Terribly Wrong/In the early grades, U.S. schools value reading-comprehension skills over knowledge. The results are devastating, especially for poor kids.Is that gloomy headline accurate? Is it true that elementary education has "gone terribly wrong?"
As far back as 1977, early-elementary teachers spent more than twice as much time on reading as on science and social studies combined. But since 2001, when the federal No Child Left Behind legislation made standardized reading and math scores the yardstick for measuring progress, the time devoted to both subjects has only grown. In turn, the amount of time spent on social studies and science has plummeted—especially in schools where test scores are low.
And yet, despite the enormous expenditure of time and resources on reading, American children haven’t become better readers. For the past 20 years, only about a third of students have scored at or above the “proficient” level on national tests. For low-income and minority kids, the picture is especially bleak: Their average test scores are far below those of their more affluent, largely white peers—a phenomenon usually referred to as the achievement gap...
That top headline is a throwback to the era of "education reform." During that era, every know-nothing journalistic halfwit recited this dystopian claim.
In this way, they pleased the nation's big-bucks "education reformers," while blowing past the basic educational data they'd neither reviewed nor surveyed. Most important of all by far, They Said What Everyone Else Did.
(To all intents and purposes, everyone agrees that the Naep is our one reliable domestic source of educational data. Everybody praises the Naep, but nobody seems to look at its data! For all Naep data, start here.)
Elementary Education Has Gone Terribly Wrong! It's hard to square that familiar, wonderfully gloomy claim with the Naep data posted above, but The Atlantic can't seem to quit this familiar old story-line.
The magazine also can't seem to quit Natalie Wexler, a former lawyer they drag out, every now and again, to repeat her gloomy claims.
In fairness to Wexler, she focuses on reading instruction, where the gains have been less large than in math. She may have perfectly sensible things to say about reading instruction.
But is it true, what The Atlantic has (once again) said? Is it true that American children "haven’t become better readers" over the past 42, 18 or 20 years?
Is it true that "Elementary Education Has Gone Terribly Wrong?"
As noted, the recorded gains in reading haven't matched those in math. If we're not mistaken, reading has proven to be "harder to teach" than math all around the world.
That doesn't mean that there have been no gains in reading at all. Here are the score gains on the Naep over the most recent measured 19-year span (the Naep tested math in 1996, reading in 1998):
Gains in average scores, 1998-2017Have Hispanic kids recorded no gains in reading? According to that standard, very rough rule of thumb, they gained more than one academic year, on average, over the course of those years.
American public schools, Grade 8 reading, Naep
White kids: 5.49 points
Black kids: 6.35 points
Hispanic kids: 13.17 points
Asian-American kids: 16.08 points
They did so even as public schools dealt with challenges of the type described in Jordan's humane report.
That said, leave it to The Atlantic! "Elementary Education Has Gone Terribly Wrong," this venerable journal has once again pseudo-reported.
The conclusion we draw seems blindingly obvious:
At The Atlantic, as at The Times, no one cares about any of this, and no one ever has!
Still coming: More on our nation's (academic/journalistic) achievement gap, courtesy of Kevin Drum.
(Drum: "I feel like this stuff is manufactured in an underground factory somewhere and shipped out randomly to newspapers across the country." In this case, it was shipped from Harvard to yesterday's New York Times!)
No, we still can't explain the phenomena Drum describes in that post.