WHAT'S IN A WORD: Are most D.C. public schools "segregated?"

THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 26, 2019

Also, what is "diverse?":
Does anyone have any idea what Professor Reardon has found?

Sean Reardon is a prolific Stanford professor. We've frequently cited his work.

That said, does anyone know what his new study claims—what he may even have found?

This Tuesday, in a news report,
the Washington Post described the findings of Reardon's new study as shown below. But does anyone have the slightest idea what this actually means?
MECKLER (9/24/19): High concentrations of poverty, not racial segregation, entirely account for the racial achievement gap in U.S. schools, a new study finds.

The research, released Monday, looked at the achievement gap between white students, who tend to have higher scores, and black and Hispanic students, who tend to have lower scores. Researchers with Stanford University wanted to know whether those gaps are driven by widespread segregation in schools or something else.

They found that the gaps were “completely accounted for” by poverty, with students in high-poverty schools performing worse than those from schools with children from wealthier families.
Upper-end editors, please! Everyone has always known that "students in high-poverty schools perform worse than those from schools with children from wealthier families." We hardly needed an exhaustive new study to clue us in on that.

That said, what does it mean when we're told that "high concentrations of poverty...entirely account for the racial achievement gap in U.S. schools?" After reading the Post report, does anyone have even the slightest idea what that statement means?

Does it mean that those (very large) gaps would disappear if all our schools were evenly balanced with respect to family income? Is that what the statement means?

More specifically:

If the New York City Public Schools created perfect "integration" of all its schools with respect to family income—if all its schools had the same assortment of family incomes—would that system's large achievement gaps disappear?

Is that what Professor Reardon is saying his study has found? That sounds like what the Post was saying when it said that "high concentrations of poverty" in American schools "entirely account for our achievement gaps."

That sounds like what the Post was saying! But does anyone believe that anything like that would actually happen in New York City's schools? Is it really possible that that's what Reardon has claimed or has found?

We'll assume that isn't what Reardon is saying. But what is the professor saying? And is there even the slightest sign that anyone is our upper-end press corps actually cares?

We've been asking questions like these for a very long time now. In our view, it's long been obvious that no one in the upper-end press corps—and yes, that includes the corporate stars of MSNBC—actually gives a flying felafel about the lives and the interests of the nation's low-income black kids.

According to top anthropologists, news reports like the one we're discussing serve one basic purpose. The analysis of these top future experts goes exactly like this:

In such reports, upper-end newspapers like the Post announce their deeply principled opposition to something called "segregation." Everything else is left in a muddle, but that self-flattering posture is put on vivid display.

At the same time, readers get to admire themselves for their own opposition to "segregation." They then put their newspaper down, failing to notice that everything that has been said is unclear.

According to major anthropologists, news reports of this type are thus a tool of tribal solidarity and "performative virtue." "[Such reports] served to establish a tribal consensus," one top expert has recently said, glumly speaking to us from the future and therefore in the past tense.

"This is precisely the type of group 'fiction' Professor Harari was talking about," this despondent future scholar gloomily said. "Within this particular floundering species, tribal groups would produce such novelized texts as a way to let individuals signal membership within the group."

So future experts have told us. And we'll admit that we've noticed the way members of our own liberal tribe love to signal their hatred for "segregation," even while making absolutely no overall sense.

It happened in Tuesday's report about Professor Reardon's study—but also in an earlier report, which opened with some fuzzy claims about the Washington, D.C. public schools.

The report appeared last Saturday morning on the Post's front page. In the main, it focused on one organization's attempts to improve the functioning of parent-teacher groups (PTOs) in Washington's public schools.

Just from reading the report, there's no way to tell if this organization's efforts are producing results. But we were struck by several of Perry Stein's claims as she began her report.

Stein has been at the Post since 2015. She became an education reporter in January of last year.

She too was speaking about "segregation." Her report began like this:
STEIN (9/21/19): Mike Dixon left his first visit to his son’s new school deflated. The Dixons had scored a seat at a Chinese-language charter school in the District that families clamor to attend.

His children would be attending a diverse public school—a rarity in a city where most schools are segregated and the student population is overwhelmingly black.

But when Dixon attended a school open house in 2012, he was one of the few black parents in the room. And when he returned for an evening parent meeting, he was again one of the only black parents. He believed he didn’t belong, so he stopped attending.
Mike Dixon now works for the organization which wants to make PTOs function better. But as we read this front-page report, we were immediately struck by the statements we've highlighted.

We were struck by Stein's immediate claim that "most schools are segregated" in the D.C. public school system. We'll admit that we were also struck by the peculiar claim that the district's public schools are "overwhelmingly black."

As a person reads this news report, it's clear that Stein opposes "segregation," just as Meckler does. It's also clear that she is inclined to advocate for the merits of "diverse public schools"—the kind of school Dixon's children attend.

We're opposed to "segregation" too. We too believe that "diversity" is a merit in a public school, all other things being reasonably equal.

That said, we were puzzled by Stein's early statements. Can it really be true that most public schools in D.C. are "segregated?" Indeed, what does Stein even mean when she makes this claim?

In wondering about that statement, try to remember what those anthropologists have said. They've told us that the term "segregation" is tossed around as a matter of virtue signaling and tribalized novelization.

Reporters signal their distaste for "segregation;" readers get to enjoy the moral splendor of realizing that they agree. Everything else is left in a state of confusion. Information isn't being sought. The actual goal is a standardized form of tribal moral fiction.

We decided to fact-check Stein's claims to the extent that we could. Are Washington's public schools "overwhelmingly black?" And what does the Washington Yu Ying Public Charter, the "diverse public school" Dixon's kids attend, actually seem to be like, demographically speaking?

We were surprised by what we learned as we conducted our search. In the modern liberal and mainstream press, performative virtue is quite widespread—and often that's where matters end.

Tomorrow: The Post calls the Yu Ying School "diverse." The Times would seek "desegregation!"

9 comments:

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  2. "That sounds like what the Post was saying! But does anyone believe that anything like that would actually happen in New York City's schools? Is it really possible that that's what Reardon has claimed or has found?

    We'll assume that isn't what Reardon is saying."

    Somerby demonstrates that he does understand what Reardon is saying, because he gives an example describing NYC schools integrated in terms of income and then suggests that Reardon's data means that kids attending such schools would do better academically. Then, for no good reason, Somerby DECIDES to assume that this is not what Reardon is saying.

    Of course, Reardon did not perform any experiment in which NYC schools were "perfectly" integrated in terms of income. But the data he analyzed DOES show that students who attend income-integrated schools tend to do better academically than students who attend school in income-segregated schools. And when Reardon examined the factors that predict high or low performance, he found that income accounted for nearly all of the effect, with race adding next to nothing to the predictive value of income alone. That is clear from Reardon's study. When kids attend schools that are less income-segregated (with a mix of income levels), they do better academically.

    So, yes, it would follow that NYC might try income-integrating its schools and see whether that helped poor students (who are largely also minority students) to do better academically. The correlations suggest that would work.

    As David in Cal has noted repeatedly, a correlational study cannot prove that this would happen, but correlational studies are conducted despite their inability to demonstrate causality, because they suggest things to try, factors to manipulate, in order to produce better outcomes for kids. When you have an important study like this one, setting aside the results because you choose not to believe them, as Somerby has just done, is no way to show that you care about kids, minority or otherwise.

    We don't get to pick and choose the scientific findings that we agree with or like. Scientists accept their findings and change their theories accordingly, because the data represents reality and reality doesn't change just because you don't like it. Setting aside this kind of study, as Somerby has just done, is akin to rejecting climate change data or the studies on vaccines, or any other kind of science denialism.

    If Somerby doesn't understand the stats in this study, he should take the paper itself to a trusted friend with the appropriate training and ask him to tell him what it means. Disagreeing with the implications of the study (that income-segregation is bad) doesn't permit rejection of the data and its analysis. This study passed peer review by a series of experts in the same field as Reardon, including some expert in statistical analysis. That is required before such a study sees print. Somerby has no basis for saying this is wrong, other than his own biases. I find it hard to understand why he would reject something that might improve the lives of minority kids everywhere, not only in NYC, and practical realities of implement change are no reason to deny these findings.

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