SATURDAY, DECEMBER 19, 2020
...and the same old patterns obtain: Ever since the first week of March, the public discourse has been dominated by two related topics:
1) The global pandemic
2) Donald J. Trump's lunatic statements about the global pandemic.
Round the decay of our colossal wreck, few other topics remained. In particular, the dull, boring topic of public schools disappeared from the New York Times.
This morning, the New York City Public Schools returns to the top of the Times' front page. Below, you see the headline which sits above the news report:
New York City Will Change Many Selective Schools to Address Segregation
Once again, the headline raises one of our favorite semantic questions. Are Gotham's public schools "segregated?" Does it make sense to describe the schools that way?
For ourselves, we would have rewritten that headline, along with the news report's opening paragraphs.
We'd be inclined to replace the language of "segregation / desegregation" with the language of "racial imbalance" and "increased diversity." We'd be inclined to edit this morning's report in other ways as well.
Below, you see the way today's report begins. We'd be inclined to replace the phrase "long-simmering concerns" with the less exciting but more straightforward "long-standing claims:"
SHAPIRO (12/19/20): New York City Will Change Many Selective Schools to Address Segregation
Mayor Bill de Blasio announced on Friday major changes to the way hundreds of New York City’s selective middle and high schools admit their students, a move intended to address long-simmering concerns that admissions policies have discriminated against Black and Latino students and exacerbated segregation in the country’s largest school district.
New York is more reliant on high-stakes admissions requirements than any other district in the country, and the mayor has for years faced mounting pressure to take more forceful action to desegregate the city’s racially and socioeconomically divided public schools. Black and Latino students are significantly underrepresented in selective middle and high schools, though they represent nearly 70 percent of the district’s 1.1 million students.
You may have noticed the strained or possibly bungled logic in the last sentence in that passage. We'd be inclined to rewrite that sentence too.
Today's report is a fascinating journalistic presentation. New York Times reporting on public schools almost always is.
Can anyone here play this game? Aside from the major conceptual issues involved, today's report even includes a classic "link to nowhere:"
SHAPIRO: The time frame for a final decision on whether to get rid of middle school screening for good—which will come shortly before Mr. de Blasio leaves office on New Year’s Day in 2022—instantly created a quandary for the phalanx of candidates vying to replace him.
The candidates are likely to be pressed on whether they would resume what has been a particularly contentious practice: measuring the academic achievements of fourth graders to determine if they can attend a selective middle school.
Say what? New York City's middle schools include grades 6-8. Why would admission be determined by academic achievement in fourth grade? (We're not saying there isn't an answer. We just don't know what it is.)
Within the statement we've highlighted, Eliza Shapiro includes a link to an earlier report—but that report describes no such practice, contentious or otherwise. The link is a classic link to nowhere! Can anyone here play this game?
We're fascinated by the way public schools get covered by the upper-end press in Our Town. Today, as always, the Times engages in a few standard practices:
Most significantly, the Times ignores the giant achievement gaps which seem to obtain, on average, between different demographic groups within the Gotham schools. More specifically, the Times ignores the fact that those giant gaps seem to exist by fourth grade, when the first Naep testing occurs.
Having ignored their very existence, the Times makes no attempt to ask what causes those apparently giant gaps, or how big those gaps really are, or how those apparently giant gaps could perhaps be reduced in the elementary grades, prior to the need to determine admission to middle school.
Briefly, let's be fair! In constantly pretending that those gaps simply don't exist, the Times is able to display its obvious moral greatness. In the process, it also throws black kids under a very old bus—but this is the way we're inclined to behave here in the streets of Our Town.
There's a great deal more to be said about this latest effort. We chuckled at the comment the Times decided to place at the top of its list of "NYT Picks:"
COMMENTER FROM BUFFALO: Thank you Mayor Bill DeBlasio. We must dismantle systemic racism and structures of oppression and supremacy. The first shall be last and the last shall be first!
Very few readers had recommended this comment. In the minds of the NYT, it belonged at the top of the pile!
How might we address those apparently giant gaps, which exist all over the nation? Citizens, please! For readers of the New York Times, those gaps don't even exist!
Having said that, we'll only add this:
All too often, we're inclined behave this way in the streets of Our Town. Elsewhere, even in Their Town, the others can sometimes see this.
For deep rumination only: We clicked two links as we tried to explore that statement about fourth-grade achievement. The first click took us to this earlier news report, a report which included this passage:
SHAPIRO (9/20/18): Mr. de Blasio, despite his usually soaring rhetoric on national progressive causes, has long refused to use the word “segregation” to describe entrenched racial and economic stratification in the city’s public schools. In June, he said that he wanted to change the admissions process at a group of the city’s most elite high schools, a plan that requires action by the State Legislature.
Should de Blasio use the term "segregation" to describe that "racial and economic stratification?"
Does the admittedly pleasing term create more heat or more light? Compare and contrast. Discuss at length. Using examples, explain.
We'd go with "racial and ethnic imbalance." Compare and contrast. Explain.