The problem we all disappear: "If you don't have anything gloomy to say, don't say anything at all."
For decades, that's been the mandated rule of the road for our nation's "education reporters." When the New York Times reported last year's Pisa scores, this mandate still obtained.
Reading was the main focus of last year's Pisa tests, and results on that test weren't real gloomy at all. In the aggregate, American kids were outscored by their peers in four or five nations, but they had outperformed their peers in 57 others.
Let's say that again:
U.S. students outperformed 57 nations, were outperformed by maybe five! Especially given some of the challenges our nation's brutal racial history has bestowed on our public schools, that could almost be regarded as a (surprisingly) good performance.
That could almost be seen as a remarkably strong performance. But Homey doesn't play it that way!
Below, you see the way the New York Times' front-page report began. We include the newspaper's gloomy headline, which adapts a key talking-point:
GOLDSTEIN (12/3/19): ‘It Just Isn’t Working’: PISA Test Scores Cast Doubt on U.S. Education EffortsThe disappointing results on the Pisa had recorded a stagnant performance by American students. The headline brandished the time-honored slogan which has misled and deceived the public for lo these many decades
The performance of American teenagers in reading and math has been stagnant since 2000, according to the latest results of a rigorous international exam, despite a decades-long effort to raise standards and help students compete with peers across the globe.
And the achievement gap in reading between high and low performers is widening. Although the top quarter of American students have improved their performance on the exam since 2012, the bottom 10th percentile lost ground, according to an analysis by the National Center for Education Statistics, a federal agency.
The disappointing results from the exam, the Program for International Student Assessment, were announced on Tuesday and follow those from the National Assessment of Educational Progress, an American test that recently showed that two-thirds of children were not proficient readers.
Over all, American 15-year-olds who took the PISA test scored slightly above students from peer nations in reading but below the middle of the pack in math.
"It just isn't working," the familiar headline familiarly said.
Please note! In that fourth paragraph, Goldstein included a remarkably underwhelming account of how well the U.S. teens had performed on the reading test. She also disappeared the results of the science test, on which American teens had also outperformed the vast majority of the world's nations.
So it goes in the New York Times when the remarkably incompetent newspaper pretends to report on the schools.
To what extent are reporters like Goldstein expected to tilt toward the gloomy? In her second paragraph, Goldstein sifted through a wide array of supporting information, landing on a disappointing fact about the nation's lowest performers.
Her subsequent remark about the National Assessment of Educational Progress—two-thirds of our kids aren't proficient readers!—is built upon a highly subjective assessment of "what the meaning of 'proficient' is." It also hides decades of major score gains on that high-profile domestic test—major score gains the New York Times has never so much as reported.
(More on that topic next week.)
A few days ago, we posted excerpts from Charles Mann's acclaimed 2005 book, 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus. Some of those excerpts described a part of Inka culture in which the mummies of past emperors were believed to speak to the present day through an array of female mediums.
The mediums who spoke for the mummies were classic "unreliable narrators." Setting the matter of gender aside, it's hard to say that our modern-day practice of relying on "education reporters" like Goldstein is any more ridiculous than this ancient Inka practice, which enabled the Spanish conquest.
Back then, mediums crazily spoke for mummies. Today, newspapers like the Washington Post and the New York Times perform a strikingly similar service:
They pretend to report the news and we pretend to believe it! Rather, they pretend to report the news and we pretend to care.
(Hat tip to the old joke about the economy of the Soviet Union. In the joke, a Soviet worker said this: "We pretend to work and they pretend to pay us." AS future experts glumly report, the capacity to pretend was the most basic human skill.)
Even in the aggregate, American kids outscored the vast majority of the world in reading—but readers of the Post and the Times weren't permitted to know that. Meanwhile, Goldstein selected a detail from the statistical undercard which added to the gloom.
She was using one form of "disaggregation" provided by the National Center for Education Statistics—a form of disaggregation in which we can see how American kids performed at the higher and lower ends of the achievement scale.
This is one form of disaggregation, and what it records is important. But the New York Times and the Washington Post agreed to ignore another form of disaggregation, in which the student population is disaggregated according to ethnicity and race.
The Inkas at the New York Times love to posture, pose and preen on matters involving race. For whatever reason, they didn't choose to show you these disaggregated results from the Pisa reading test—results which help define the modern-day version of "the problem we all live with:"
Average scores, Reading LiteracyThose average scores, and the giant achievement gaps they define, help define the modern-day version of "The Problem We All Live With." They also define the amazingly large problem the New York Times works to help readers ignore.
American students, 2018 Pisa
White students: 531
Black students: 448
Hispanic students: 481
Asian-American students: 556
How large are the achievement gaps between those four different groups? Those achievement gaps are massive! To wit:
In the schools where "nothing is working," Asian-American kids outscored every "education system" in the world, even that of Singapore.
Within those same dysfunctional schools, America's white kids outscored every full-blown nation in the world, including tiny Estonia. We regard that as an astonishing fact, but it's an actual fact all the same—unless you read the Post and the Times, where such facts get disappeared.
Good lord! Our nation's white kids, such as they are, outscored every nation on earth on the Pisa reading test! They outscored tiny Estonia, this year's top-performing nation. They outscored Finland, the press corps darling to which many education reporters, Goldstein included, have taken free propaganda junkets in recent years.
They outscored the weary students of South Korea, who attend their regular schools by day and their workhouse academies by night. They even outscored Macau and Hong Kong, along with Japan and Taiwan!
We have no idea why our nation's ragtag collection of white kids are able to perform on such a high level. But that's the way those kids did score, unless you read the New York Times, where you're told, in a wonderfully pointless aside, that the kids of Peru improved their score last year.
Those disaggregated American scores contain some news which is amazingly good and some news which is horrifically bad. Just so you can see the shape of the world you won't be told about in the Times, here's a fuller list of selected scores. No high scores have been omitted:
Average scores, Reading Literacy, 2018 Pisa:For all Pisa data, start here.
United States, Asian-American students: 556
United States, white students: 531
Hong Kong: 524
Estonia: 523 (highest OECD nation)
(South) Korea: 514
United States, all students: 505
United Kingdom: 504
All OECD nations: 487
United States, Hispanic students: 481
United States, black students: 448
Those data describe the problem we're all living with. They also describe the problem the New York Times works extremely hard to disappear, hide and ignore.
"Nothing is working in our schools!" Over the past several decades, largely in deference to powerful interests advocating a type of "education reform," this has been the mandated cry of our Inka-reminiscent "education reporters" (and pundits) at newspapers like the Post and the Times.
That said, it's hard to claim that nothing is working when you see two of those four disaggregated scores. As to why our black kids produced that very low average score, that's the problem the New York Times refuses to report and discuss, except in the largely fantastical ways its mediums prefer.
Within the schools where nothing is working, Asian kids are performing at a higher level than any nation or education system in the world. White kids are performing at a higher level than any actual nation.
If we credit the Pisa results, black kids are performing at a level which puts them between Chile and Serbia. But you aren't allowed to know such things if you read the Post and the Times.
What explains the brutal achievement gaps defined by those disappeared data? There are many different possible explanations. Almost none of them will ever be discussed.
The truth is, there is no sign that anyone actually cares about the lives and the interests of the nation's black kids. Most specifically, we'll never see these questions discussed on our favorite TV programs.
Rachel will never report or discuss this problem; neither will Lawrence or Chris. The Times will reinforce this code of silence by refusing to report the most basic types of data from our high-profile standardized tests.
They refuse to report the gaps, but they also refuse to discuss the gains, a point we'll examine next week.
Nothing is working in our schools? In fact, two large groups of American students would, if viewed as separate nation, be the highest performing nations in the world on the Pisa reading test!
Something seems to be working for them, but you aren't encouraged to know that. So it goes as our fantasy-ridden nation, not unlike the Inka empire, moves toward external conquest.
Next week: The Times encounters the Naep