HIS LATEST COLUMN: What happened in the Steubenville schools?

THURSDAY, JUNE 24, 2021

No one inquired or asked: In terms of basic anthropology, it's the dumbness which we typically find most striking.

(Full disclosure: These perceptions are shaped by our consultations with major anthropologists.)

None of us humans are perfect, of course; we're all subject to error. That said, consider a recent statement about the students who attend the Los Angeles public schools. 

(We refer to the schools of the Los Angeles Unified School District, the nation's second-largest school district.)

The statement appeared in a front-page report in the New York Times. At one point, readers were offered this:

COWAN AND HUBLER (6/22/21): The challenges of the Los Angeles public schools have, for generations, been epic. The district sprawls across 710 square miles and encompasses some 1,400 schools.  Eighty percent of the students live in poverty, and nearly 100,000 are learning English...

Really? Do eighty percent of the students in the Los Angeles public schools (the LAUSD) actually "live in poverty?"

On the one hand, it all depends on what the meaning of "living in poverty" is. We all can choose to use such terms in whatever way we please, and our journalists frequently do.

On the other hand, certain regularities exist with respect to the term in question. For the record, the Times report provides no link in support of its eye-catching claim.

That said, the claim is almost surely derived from a different statistical statement, according to which "approximately 80% of LAUSD students qualify for free or reduced-price meals" (under the relevant federal program). 

(This statement is widely available. The district itself doesn't seem to publish any statistics about the family income of its students.)

Approximately 80% of LAUSD students qualify for free or reduced-price meals? That sounds like an accurate statement, but to qualify for that federal program, a student's family doesn't have to be living below the federal poverty line. 

Under that program, the cut-off line for family income is roughly double the federal poverty line. Beyond that, let's just say that the FBI doesn't investigate claims about income when students apply for the program.

Given these facts, participation in that program isn't a measure of "poverty" as the term is generally used in journalistic contexts. This fact has been explained a trillion times, at this site and in other locations, but our major newspapers have never managed to get themselves straight on this highly tedious matter.

Understanding statistics can be hard, and we humans are inclined to be dumb. We prefer exciting statements to precision. Anthropologically speaking, we just aren't super sharp.

All these thoughts rushed through our heads when we encountered a few of the statistical claims in a certain news report in this morning's Washington Post. That said, let's cut straight to the chase about what the Post is reporting.

The Post is reporting a change in who will be attending a highly selective public high school in the Washington area. Many Asians are out, many others are in. On balance, we regard this whole discussion as stupendously dumb:

NATANSON (6/24/21): Prestigious magnet school Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology will welcome the most diverse class of students in recent school history next fall, according to data released Wednesday by Fairfax County Public Schools.

The class will include more Black and Hispanic students than any class admitted in the past four years. It will include fewer Asian students, who have historically made up the vast majority of admitted students, and a larger percentage of female students.

But the biggest jump came in admission offers to economically disadvantaged students, meaning students who qualify for free or reduced-price school meals. In previous years, these students accounted for 2 percent or fewer of all children offered spots at Thomas Jefferson, known as TJ. This year, 25 percent of all students receiving offers are economically disadvantaged, according to Fairfax data.

The TJ Class of 2025 is the first to be admitted under a new admissions system approved late last year that asked school staffers to consider applicants’ socioeconomic and racial backgrounds and did away with a long-standing, notoriously difficult admissions test, as well as a $100 application fee. Fairfax County Schools Superintendent Scott Brabrand implemented these changes in a bid to boost diversity of all kinds at the school.

All things being roughly equal, we think it's good when schools are more diverse rather than less diverse. Beyond that, we congratulate the Post's Hannah Natanson for discussing the school lunch program without going to shaky or flatly inaccurate statements about how many students are "living in poverty."

On the other hand, sad! If so many kids can handle the challenging curriculum at this "prestigious magnet school," that's extremely good news. But in that case, why not open a TJ Annex, a TJ II? Why not have two TJ schools, so all those kids can benefit from the challenging instruction?

Why not serve twice as many kids? Why should we boot the Asian kids out? Why can't every eager, qualified kid be allowed to take part in this school's high-powered work?

That question may be the most obvious question currently available anywhere in the world. It arises at no point in the Post's report, in the course of which the superintendent rhapsodizes about his good deed without explaining why he didn't simply increase the number of seats at this challenging school.

If so many kids are up to the challenge—if so many kids could benefit—why not increase the number of seats available at these schools? This obvious question doesn't arise in this morning's Post, and it never arises in the New York Times as that paper continues its endless, dull-witted proselytizing about who should get to attend that city's most selective high schools.

Here in Our Town, we're frequently very dumb. Consider the total lack of interest in the Steubenville City Schools, a topic which returns us to Jay Mathews' latest column.

As we outlined yesterday, Mathews wrote about Karin Chenoweth's new book, Districts That Succeed: Breaking the Correlation Between Race, Poverty. 

As Mathews notes, Chenoweth writes about six school districts, three of which are "tiny" while two are merely small. Concerning those five school districts, Mathews summarizes thusly:

MATHEWS (6/21/21): The book has six case studies. In Valley Stream 30, a tiny district on Long Island, N.Y., African American students performed 1.2 grade levels above the national average for all students in 2016. In the Seaford district in southern Delaware, Black third- and fourth-graders in 2019 caught up to where White students had been in 2014. Steubenville, a working-class community in Ohio, had some of the best-performing third- and fourth-graders in the country. The Cottonwood and Lane districts in Oklahoma are tiny, but they got together to boost low-income children.

As we noted yesterday, Cottonwood and Lane are so extremely tiny that their inclusion in this book is almost an admission of defeat.  Do we have to include two districts so tiny just to find six school districts which (allegedly) work?

That said, the Steubenville district isn't tiny; it's just fairly small. It seems to enroll roughly 2500 students, spread from PK through Grade 12. It runs three elementary schools.

In our opinion, this district's inclusion in this project says something about the way things work here in the orgs of Our Town. The statement isn't flattering:

As Mathews notes, Chenoweth relied, at least in part, on Sean Reardon's research to locate her districts which work. Here's the passage in which Mathews explains this:

MATHEWS: By sifting through the research of Sean Reardon, a sociologist at Stanford University, Chenoweth identified districts that overcame such pitfalls. Reardon and his team spent four years plotting on graphs nearly all U.S. school districts based on their students’ socioeconomic standing and academic achievement. Chenoweth looked for districts where achievement was better than socioeconomics would have predicted. She visited those places to see what was going on.

Presumably, Mathews is referring to the data from Reardon which was the basis for a fascinating graphic in the New York Times. 

The data covered four years of student performance in the nation's many school districts—2009 through 2012. The graphic appeared in the New York Times in April 2016.

You can see the graphic here. Even then, Steubenville was perhaps the largest outlier in the entire country. (Go ahead—just enter "Steubenville" in the graphic's search engine.)

Based upon the socioeconomic status of its students during that four-year period, no school district in the country had overperformed in the way Steubenville had. Truth to tell, no other district was really close.

In an equal but opposite way, no school district in the country underperformed to such an extent. Steubenville was the largest outlier in the nation. Based on the test scores and the socioeconomic data Reardon was using, its students had outpaced expectations to an unparalleled degree.

We mention that for this reason:

The four years in question were 2009 through 2012. Meanwhile, the  graphic to which we've linked appeared in the New York Times in April 2016.

Five years ago, there Steubenville sat, a striking statistical outlier. If we assume that the data in question were good, Steubenville was overperforming to an astounding degree.

Why do we mention this fact? Easy! Nine years after the test scores in question were recorded; five years after that graphic appeared; you've never heard a single word about the Steubenville schools. 

The Times didn't go to Steubenville to see what was happening there. Rachel never interrupted her (increasingly disgraceful) mugging and clowning to tell you that this low-income, struggling town had been knocking the ball out of the park when it came to student achievement.

You never heard a word about this, and that's because nobody cares. We've told you and told you and told you that about the values of Our Town. This example helps establish out point.

Meanwhile, we think of a key word we floated yesterday. That key word was "allegedly."

We'll discuss that key word before we're done. For today, we'll close with this:

Are 80% of Los Angeles students really "living in poverty?" Also, why didn't that superintendent increase the numbers of seats at his highly prestigious high school?

The first question is boring and hard. The second never arises.

We just aren't super sharp in Our Town. We're so dumb, experts glumly say, we aren't even aware of the problem! 

They tell us this again and again. They exhibit a miserable thousand-yard stare whenever they share this finding.

Tomorrow: Score gains from Chicago

How low-income was it: What was Steubenville's socioeconomic status during the four years in question? One measure of that status is recorded in the New York Times graphic.

According to Reardon's data, median family income for Steubenville students stood at $19,000 per year. By way of contrast, median income among Detroit students was $27,000. In Cleveland, the figure was $24,000.

Were those figures accurate? How are we supposed to know!


25 comments:

  1. "We prefer exciting statements to precision. Anthropologically speaking, we just aren't super sharp."

    Your goebbelsian dembots don't "prefer exciting statements to precision", dear Bob, nor are they particularly obtuse.

    They're spreading goebbelsian lies, inciting racist hatred, so that your liberal-hitlerian cult could do better in the next election. And as a member of this cult, you should be grateful to them, dear Bob.

    You, dear Bob, being a liberal, while constantly bad-mouthing liberal propaganda machine, is a bit ... how would we put it?... schizophrenic?

    Yes, schizophrenic, dear Bob. And even the dumb-and-dumber dembots in your comment section understand it...

    ReplyDelete
  2. "(Full disclosure: These perceptions are shaped by our consultations with major anthropologists.)"

    Why does Somerby bother telling lies like this?

    ReplyDelete
  3. "Given these facts, participation in that program isn't a measure of "poverty" as the term is generally used in journalistic contexts. This fact has been explained a trillion times, at this site and in other locations, but our major newspapers have never managed to get themselves straight on this highly tedious matter."

    Somerby's ongoing beef is that this measure of poverty IS used by journalists, routinely, not that it isn't used. A different measure of poverty may be used by the census or the federal government (to qualify for other anti-poverty programs) or by sociologists, but this IS the measure used by journalists, and the evidence for that is Somerby's ongoing complaints whenever it is used.

    Somerby behaves as if he has never been to Los Angeles. He behaves as if he has never read anything about the proportion of income spent on housing, the cost of which is exorbitant in the Los Angeles area. Somerby acts as if he doesn't understand that the cost of living in very high in Southern California, so high that people move elsewhere because of it. And Somerby doesn't appear to understand the very large number of immigrants in Los Angeles, both documented and undocumented (since even those without documentation are taught in the school system, because it is to our advantage as a society to do so). And Somerby appears not to understand that it is impossible to live and work in Los Angeles without owning and driving a car, which ads to family expenses (there is no well-functioning rapid transit system). A car is a necessity due to the urban sprawl, which is historically caused by the need to restrict building heights due to earthquakes. So Los Angeles is dense from side to side, not up and down.

    Somerby's belief that a certain level of income specified nationally will capture whether a family is poor or not in Los Angeles, shows no thought whatsoever about what income translates to in terms of quality of life.

    If Somerby had ever seriously talked with any real social scientist, he wouldn't say the incredibly dumb things he does here, so frequently. But this blog is about Somerby's hubris, not schools and certainly not poverty.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. 'Los Angeles is dense from side to side, not up and down.'

      Somerby, on the other hand, is dense up and down, and side to side, like the Trumptard that he is.

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    ReplyDelete
  5. If your point is that the mouthpiece of plutocracy (the corporate mass media) does not want to discuss poverty, that, of course, is true. The poverty line, set by our corporate-owned government, is set way below the basic-needs level, as is the minimum wage. Many poverty programs at the state and county level acknowledge this and provide services like the school-lunch programs to people above the phony poverty line yet well within the mass of starved wage slaves. These people have no chance to save money and own assets. The plutocracy reluctantly had to concede not to starve their children. Though Republicans, who represent the most vicious elements of our plutocracy, are constantly trying to eliminate these programs.

    ReplyDelete
  6. "Why not serve twice as many kids? Why should we boot the Asian kids out? "

    1. There probably is not sufficient money in the district budget to open another magnet school campus.

    2. Asian students may do exceptionally well on the admission test, but that doesn't mean they are the most qualified or the most likely to benefit from the school. Somerby seems to assume that those Asian students are entitled to attend that magnet school and that admitting other students in their place is an unfairness to those Asian students. If the district changes its admission criteria, Asian students are not being excluded or kicked out of their seats. They are being asked to compete on a different basis, along with all of the other applicants.

    Somerby's statements about displacement of Asian students only make sense if you assume, a priori, that Asian students are better and more qualified than any other students. That is the heart of this matter -- that the previous selection process kept out deserving students who might also have benefitted from admission. Those students can only be deemed less deserving if you assume, a priori, that they are not as able as the Asian students. Those underlying assumptions about ability are derived from negative stereotypes that disadvantage certain groups of students over others. Somerby displays that same bias here when he says Asian kids are being "booted out" instead of being asked to compete on a fairer basis.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Wow. Your smug racism against Asians is astonishing. I suppose you think they are only qualified to work in restaurants, fold clothes, and build railroads in California.

      Delete
    2. Please cite one single racist statement against Asians made in the above comment.

      Delete
    3. The entire attitude towards Asians is racist. First and formost, classifying Asian students according to race and disqualifying them accordingly.

      Delete
    4. I didn't do that. Your beef is with someone else.

      Delete
    5. "Asian students are not being excluded or kicked out of their seats. They are being asked to compete on a different basis, along with all of the other applicants."
      How are they supposed "to compete on a different basis" when that basis is their ethnic origin?

      Delete
    6. If there is no net gain or loss to the number of students in the district, wouldn't some of the cost of expanding the magnet program be offset by a reduction in costs elsewhere.

      Delete
    7. Distinguishing people (let alone children) by 'race' or ethnicity is racism, dear Corby. By definition. And that's your liberal-hitlerian cult's main activity.

      Delete
    8. @3:43

      No, because you need better trained teachers (and different ones, with science background) and expensive lab equipment and rooms set up as labs (with lab tables, gas outlets & safety equipment and better computers), plus a better library and counselors that wouldn't be found in other schools. If there were no net loss in students, there would be no budget offsets either. Also perhaps some added transportation costs with a magnet school.

      Delete
    9. "Distinguishing people (let alone children) by 'race' or ethnicity is racism"

      This is a right-wing response designed to confuse the issue by redefining "racism".

      Delete
    10. That pretty much makes Somerby a racist too, for singling out the Asian kids in the first place.

      Delete
    11. Shrug. If this is indeed a right-wing response, dear dembot, then the right-wing got it right. What of it?

      Delete
  7. ‘On the one hand, it all depends on what the meaning of "living in poverty" is.’

    I can’t even...

    Here is a statement from the naep’s own website about the school lunch program:

    ‘NAEP first began collecting data in 1996 on student eligibility for NSLP as an indicator of poverty. Based on available school records, students were classified as either currently eligible for the free/reduced-price school lunch or not eligible. Eligibility for free and reduced-price lunches is determined by students' family income in relation to the federally established poverty level. Students from families with incomes at or below 130 percent of the poverty level qualify to receive free lunches and those from families with incomes between 130 and 185 percent of the poverty level qualify to receive reduced-price lunch. For the period July 1, 2018, through June 30, 2019, for a family of four, 130 percent of the poverty level is $32,630 and 185 percent is $46,435.’

    https://nces.ed.gov/nationsreportcard/guides/groups.aspx

    ReplyDelete
  8. "Were those figures accurate? How are we supposed to know!"

    How do you know whether a figure in a report or study is accurate? First, you evaluate the credentials of the person publishing the report, also taking into account any obvious bias and their motives for conducting the study. Then you compare the data provided with data available from other sources, looking for consistency and discrepancy and using the methods and context of each study to evaluate what such disparities might mean. Third, you ask whether the study was peer-reviewed, looking at who published it and what experts vouched for it. Fourth, you ask whether the data makes sense, considering it in the context of other knowledge about that topic.

    In science generally, there is a tendency to reject data that doesn't fit one's own prejudices or biases. To protect against that knee-jerk reaction, the data is assumed to be correct and competently collected if it was obtained by a competent researcher. Who is competent? Someone who has earned a doctorate at a university with a good reputation, someone who has a government grant which requires external evaluation and oversight by administrators, and someone who has previously published a body of work that has stood up to critical review by peers.

    Pseudoscience generally claims that regular science is biased against their claims and that they don't get a fair hearing in mainstream science. Such a claim is a warning sign that results might be bogus. Publication of studies that avoid the normal peer review process are suspect because their motives may be to sell products or bilk people of money, not contribute to shared knowledge on a topic. Anecdotal evidence is suspect because it may be non-representative of what most people experience.

    What is the point of this rundown? Somerby pretends that there is no way to verify statistics. His claim, that we cannot know what is accurate, is wrong because it ignores the methods used to obtain as precise and accurate info as possible, instead suggesting that there is no way to know. He uses pseudo-philosophical inquiry to discredit painstaking work by researchers, pretending that anything is possible and if so, then anything can be wrong and nothing can be trusted. That's nihilistic sophistry. We can know whether numbers are accurate in a probabilistic way, within limits of error, sufficiently to make decisions and understand a problem. And that is good enough to make progress. That is how science works. But Somerby isn't concerned with science. His goal is to undermine the idea of expertise so that he can advance not only his own empty thoughts, but Trump's propaganda and right wing talking points. Because if we cannot know anything, then anything can be believed and Hillary is a pedophile and Donald Trump is the messiah. Phooey on Somerby's agenda.

    ReplyDelete
  9. 'Nine years after the test scores in question were recorded; five years after that graphic appeared; you've never heard a single word about the Steubenville schools.
    The Times didn't go to Steubenville to see what was happening there. Rachel never interrupted her (increasingly disgraceful) mugging and clowning to tell you that this low-income, struggling town had been knocking the ball out of the park when it came to student achievement.'

    And Somerby, who claims to care so deeply about Steubenville schools, never commented on them either. He put in a dozen+ posts defending Roy Moore in 2017, gallantly defended Donald Trump in 100+ posts, and frothed at the mouth about Maddow several hundred times, but could never be bothered to comment about these schools.

    Somerby doesn't care about school achievement at all or he would have brought up Steubenville earlier . He only brings it up to bash the NYT and people such as Maddow who are not hard core, malignant Trumptards like himself.

    And of course, Somerby can't stand the fact that Maddow is actually successful, while TDH's favored candidates Trump and Moore lost. So TDH ended up being a useless idiot for Trump, rather than the useful idiot he was probably hoping to become.

    ReplyDelete
  10. ‘Were those figures accurate? How are we supposed to know!’

    From Reardon’s study:
    ‘How is socioeconomic status measured?

    For each school district or county, we use data from the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey (ACS) to create estimates of the average socioeconomic status (SES) of families. Every year, the ACS surveys families in each community in the U.S. We use six community characteristics reported in 5-year rolling surveys from 2005-2009 through 2014-2018 to construct a composite measure of SES in each community:
    * Median income
    * Percentage of adults age 25 and older with a bachelor’s degree or higher
    * Poverty rate among households with children age 5–17
    * Percentage of households receiving benefits from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)
    * Percentage of households headed by single mothers
    * Employment rate for adults age 25–64.
    The composite SES measure is standardized so that a value of 0 represents the SES of the average school district in the U.S. Approximately two-thirds of districts have SES values between -1 and +1, and approximately 95% have SES values between -2 and +2 (so values larger than 2 or smaller than -2 represent communities with very high or very low average socioeconomic status, respectively). In some places we cannot calculate a reliable measure of socioeconomic status, because the ACS samples are too small; in these cases, no value for SES is reported. For more detailed information, please see the technical documentation.’

    https://edopportunity.org/help-faq/#ses-measured

    The link to the census data is here:

    https://www.census.gov/programs-surveys/acs

    Of course, I take it that poor Bob is waiting for Rachel Maddow to tell him whether the data is accurate, otherwise he apparently has no way of finding out for himself.

    ReplyDelete
  11. ‘Why not serve twice as many kids? Why should we boot the Asian kids out? Why can't every eager, qualified kid be allowed to take part in this school's high-powered work?

    That question may be the most obvious question currently available anywhere in the world. It arises at no point in the Post's report,’

    Umm...

    From Natanson’s story in the Post:

    ‘The parents opposed to the changes, who call themselves the Coalition for TJ, argue that Brabrand’s revisions are explicitly meant to reduce the number of Asian students attending the school, calling the changes discriminatory. The school system has denied this.

    In a statement late Wednesday evening, the Coalition for TJ congratulated students admitted to the school but slammed Fairfax officials for the drop in Asian admits. The coalition called the Class of 2025 a culmination of Fairfax’s “crusade” against Asian children.

    Fairfax has “broken the hearts of many deserving students,” the coalition wrote on Twitter. “We lament the war on Asians launched by Fairfax County Public Schools.”
    Brabrand acknowledged Wednesday that he anticipates criticism over the decline in Asian students in this year’s class of TJ admittances. He noted that a majority of students offered spots in the Class of 2025 are Asian.’

    The story is a news report and is not advocacy.

    ReplyDelete
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