MONDAY, NOVEMBER 29, 2021
STARTING TOMORROW—Storyline plunders Kenosha: Sarah Mervosh is nine years out of college. She graduated from Notre Dame in the class of 2012.
In the main, we don't intend what follows to be a criticism of Mervosh. To a much larger extent, we offer it as a denunciation of her current employer, the endlessly faux New York Times.
That said, who is Sarah Mervosh? Our denunciation of the Storyline-loving Times begins with that simple question.
As noted, Mervosh graduated from Notre Dame back in 2012. Upon graduation, she spent six years at the Dallas Morning News, writing about pretty much everything except public education.
In June 2018, she moved to the Times, describing herself as a reporter on (or possibly in) "The Greater New York City Area." Even today, her official bio at the Times describes her in the following way:
"Sarah Mervosh is a national reporter based in New York, covering a wide variety of news and feature stories across the country."
Despite that generic description, Mervosh is now an education reporter. Her first report on this new beat appeared in late July of this year, under this headline
The Pandemic Ruined Third Grade. Can Summer School Make Up for It?
That well-intentioned report included a badly flawed account of the nation's "achievement gaps." We'll return to this point below.
Long story short: Sarah Mervosh is not an experienced education reporter. As best we can tell, she brought zero experience and expertise, no special training or technical knowledge, to her new assignment at this most faux of all major American news orgs.
This is not the fault or the doing of Mervosh. But it extends the remarkable way the New York Times has covered public schools over the past many years.
As far as we know, the Times has never had an education specialist on its editorial board. Despite the massive size of its reporting staff, it has shown little interest in hiring or developing modestly qualified education specialists to serve as education reporters.
The paper keeps cycling general interest reporters into its public school reporting slots. This produces the kind of Dick-and-Jane reporting which prevails in Mervosh's most recent report, through no major fault of her own.
The lengthy report to which we refer appeared above the fold on Sunday morning's front page. Accompanied by a large photograph, it dominated the front page of the newspaper's print editions.
Online, the lengthy report carries the headline shown below. The report explores the only public education topic the New York Times seems to recognize:
Minneapolis Integration Is a Two-Way Street
The New York Times devotes constant attention to a process it describes as the "desegregation" of American public schools.
In principle, there's no reason why it shouldn't do so. That said, the paper devotes zero attention to other major points of concern, such as the source of the (poorly-defined) "achievement gaps" Mervosh describes in this passage:
MERVOSH (11/28/21): “There is not a single school district in the U.S. that is even moderately segregated that does not have a large achievement gap,” said Sean Reardon, the lead author on the paper and the director of the Educational Opportunity Project at Stanford University.
The situation is especially stark in Minneapolis, a deeply segregated city. The district of 30,500 students is diverse: about 41 percent white, 35 percent Black, 14 percent Hispanic, 5 percent Asian American and 4 percent Native American.
But white students test four to five grade levels ahead of Black, Hispanic and Native students, and two and a half grade levels ahead of Asian students, making the district’s disparities one of the worst in the country, according to the Educational Opportunity Project. A large gap also exists between poor and nonpoor students.
Just for starters, riddle us this. In what sense is Minneapolis "a deeply segregated city?"
Online, Mervosh offers this link, apparently in support of this statement. Essentially, it's a "link to nowhere." It leads to an earlier Times report about the racial culture of the city, a report which makes no such specific claim.
Earlier, her performance was worse.
At the start of her report, Mervosh says that Minneapolis ranks "among the most segregated school districts in the country." In that instance, she offers no link in support of her statement—no link to support the striking claim, or even to explain what it means.
In such ways, the Times routinely feeds readers Storyline about this one favored public school topic. Meanwhile, consider the achievement gaps to which Mervosh refers in that passage.
Citing a recent report from Stanford, she says that "white students [in Minneapolis] test four to five grade levels ahead of Black...students."
In Dick and Jane fashion, she doesn't say at what grade level that enormous gap has been measured. Regarding the answer to that question, we will tell you these things:
On the one hand, the answer makes the size of that gap especially astounding. According to the Stanford report, that's the average achievement gap among kids in grades 3-8!
On the one hand, that's an astounding statement. On the other hand, it calls into question the very meaning of such eye-popping claims.
What does it mean when we're told that the average white kid in Grade 6 is four to five grade levels ahead of the average black kid? In what sense could some such state of affairs even be possible? What could this claim even mean?
Could the average white sixth grader really be four or five years ahead of the average black sixth grader? After (less than) six years of graded instruction, could the black kids be five years behind?
Can such a claim even make any sense? Most importantly, if the claim is actually true in some sense, how can such an astonishing state of affairs ever have come to be?
Given the way the New York Times pretends to report on such crucial topics, you'll never see such questions asked, examined, addressed, considered, elucidated, explored.
In this instance, you'll be moved ahead to a lengthy report about the attempt to improve racial balance in Minneapolis' various public high schools, as if some sort of improved racial balance could possibly speak to the size of the problem described in that Stanford report.
Mervosh failed to say at what grade level those very large gaps obtain. That said, her lack of expertise can be seen virtually everywhere in the brief passage we've posted.
She doesn't seem to realize how strange it is, given national norms, to hear that white kids in Minneapolis are years ahead of Asian-American kids. She doesn't seem to understand that "a large gap...between poor and nonpoor students" will likely exist in almost any school district in the nation.
Nor does she seem to see (or address) the oddness of this quoted statement:
“There is not a single school district in the U.S. that is even moderately segregated that does not have a large achievement gap.”
Question: At present, how many school districts of any type lack "a large achievement gap?"
That quotation makes it sound like it must be the (largely undefined) "segregation" which produces those large gaps. But do any districts which lack "segregation" also lack those gaps?
We're inclined to doubt that there are many such districts. We're inclined to assume that the question didn't occur to Mervosh as she pursued this report—or to her slumbering editors, if any such people exist.
In our view, Mervosh's lack of experience and expertise is visible all through this report. So too with that debut report in late July, where she failed to respond to silly claims about the way six weeks in summer school could possibly bring failing third graders in Greensboro right back up to grade level.
Given the very data to which Mervosh now links, no qualified education reporter could possibly believe such a ridiculous notion. That said, it isn't Mervosh's fault that her newspaper has assigned her to cover an important beat for which she seems to have no background, no training, no knowledge.
Despite the failures of Sunday's report, it constitutes a fascinating overview of the Minneapolis plan to "integrate" its high schools. District lines have been redrawn to make numbers look slightly better. Certain parents are suddenly faced with such choices as this:
MERVOSH: Heather Wulfsberg, who is white, had intended to send her daughter, Isabella, 14, to Southwest High, a racially diverse but majority white public school that is a 10-minute bus ride from their home.
The school offers an international baccalaureate program, as well as Japanese, which Isabella studied in middle school. Isabella’s older brother, 18, is a senior there, and Ms. Wulfsberg envisioned her children attending together, her son helping Isabella navigate freshman year.
So Ms. Wulfsberg appealed the reassignment to North High, citing her son’s attendance at Southwest, and her daughter’s interest in Japanese. (North offers one language, Spanish.)
She was also concerned about transportation. There was no direct bus, and Isabella’s commute could take up to 55 minutes. She would also have to walk from the bus stop to school through an area where frequent gun shots are a problem.
In this instance, Wulfsberg was planning to send her daughter to Southwest High, a large, "racially diverse" high school ten minutes from her home.
Instead, her daughter was zoned to North High, a distant, very small school which has traditionally been almost all black.
For starters, a person might wonder how there could be a "racially diverse" public high school in a district which ranks "among the most segregated school districts in the country," (According to Greatschools.org, Southwest High is 55% white, 28% black, 11% Hispanic.)
Such puzzles will rarely be solved when the Times pursues its one Storyline-of-interest. More striking is the downside of the ordered switch, including the fact that little North High (440 students in all) offers only one foreign language, is almost an hour away from Wulfsberg's home, and sits in a community which features "frequent gun shots."
More on those gun shots below. Concerning the current state of North High, Mervosh offers this depressing statistical bungle:
MERVOSH: More than half of 10th graders who completed testing did not meet state standards in reading in 2019, and performance in math was worse, with more than 80 percent of 11th graders failing proficiency standards. About 65 percent of students graduate within four years, compared with 84 percent statewide.
Oof! According to Mervosh, "more than 80 percent of 11th graders" at North High "failed [state] proficiency standards" in math in 2019. We'd call that a statistical bungle for the following reasons:
When we clicked to the bewildering accountability report to which Mervosh offered a link, we eventually found that, as a matter of fact, 95.6% of North's 11th graders failed to meet state standards in math in 2019. Out of 46 students tested, only two met state standards.
(Warning: These data are extremely hard to find at that bewildering site.)
Why did Mervosh cite the data from 2019, rather than those from 2021? We can't answer that question. But in 2021, only 17 11th graders were tested in math at North High, and only one of those students met state standards.
We don't know why so few students were tested, but those are terrible indicators.
These are terrible indicators—plus the frequent gunshots! By the way—to what extent did life, as children, amid "frequent gunshots" help produce the academic problems of North High's current kids?
We can't answer that terrible question—and at the Times, such questions will rarely be asked. Instead, this dumbest of all American papers pounds away at favored Storyline, suggesting that things will be better, and will make more sense, when Wulfsberg's daughter is walking to school in the face of those gunshots too.
Overall, this is a stunningly uninquisitive news report. Again and again, it skims the surface of "American Clueless" and "American Uncaring" concerning the vast academic disparities which often obtain between different groups of good, decent American kids.
The Times sent an inexperienced scribe to skim us along the rooftops of these issues in Minneapolis. We've barely scratched the surface of the shortcomings with Mervosh's overview, which is admittedly fascinating—but is also a harbinger of doom.
Mervosh's overview is fascinating in a wide array of ways. That said, this kind of work is Storyline—Storyline and little else.
It comes to us from a false, faux world—from a world of performance and script. Dick and Jane were in Minneapolis, then moved to the Times' front page, where they're frequently found.
Our tribe's recent coverage of Kenosha was quite similar. Starting tomorrow, we'll examine what names we might want to call Kyle Rittenhouse. Beyond that, we'll start to supply the mounds of information people heard about on Fox—mounds of information which were generally disappeared by our own tribe's "news" sites.
What information got disappeared in Kenosha? We'll start with that topic tomorrow. We leave you today with two last pieces of data from Minneapolis:
Southwest High enrolls something like 1900 students, North High maybe 440.
Why has the city of Minneapolis maintained that one small, floundering school? That's a fairly obvious question, one which went unasked in yesterday's mountain of script.
We may continue to explore such topics from yesterday's report. That regional desegregation plans is especially striking, and also a blast from the past.
That said, when the Times discusses low-income kids, the paper sends Dick and Jane to the scene. So too, in truth, with Kenosha.
In ways which please our hapless tribe, these Dicks and Janes produce Storyline—fable, tale, script, little more.