WEDNESDAY, MARCH 9, 2022
But also, the Bridgeport schools: Starting early last evening, a computer breakdown derailed our preparation for today's installment of our current award-winning series, the award-winning "Gates on race."
The computer breakdown was conquered this morning. But due to the lack of prep, we're postponing our series for one day.
(The topic is very important. In a guest essay in Sunday's New York Times, Professor Gates joined Professor Curran in saying this: "We need a new language for talking about race.")
In a somewhat related matter, we direct you to Dana Goldstein's report, in today's New York Times, about post-pandemic public school reading instruction. The report's dual headlines say this:
It’s ‘Alarming’: Children Are Severely Behind in Reading
The fallout from the pandemic is just being felt. “We’re in new territory,” educators say.
The news in Goldstein's report isn't good. Reporting from lower-income Bridgeport, Connecticut, Goldstein starts like this:
GOLDSTEIN (3/9/22): The kindergarten crisis of last year, when millions of 5-year-olds spent months outside of classrooms, has become this year’s reading emergency.
As the pandemic enters its third year, a cluster of new studies now show that about a third of children in the youngest grades are missing reading benchmarks, up significantly from before the pandemic.
In Virginia, one study found that early reading skills were at a 20-year low this fall, which the researchers described as “alarming.”
In the Boston region, 60 percent of students at some high-poverty schools have been identified as at high risk for reading problems—twice the number of students as before the pandemic...
Our youngest kids have missed a lot of school, and this seems to have had an effect.
"Children in every demographic group have been affected," Goldstein says as she continues, "but Black and Hispanic children, as well as those from low-income families, those with disabilities and those who are not fluent in English, have fallen the furthest behind."
If we ever stumble upon that new way of talking about matters involving "race," we may start talking about the large numbers of kids who are struggling in their public schools. We won't restrict our focus, as the New York Times normally does, to that handful of high achievers who might get into Stuyvesant High, and even move on to Yale.
We might discuss the many kids, along with the few. That would be a much better way of talking about this particular topic.
Today, and to her vast credit, Goldstein is talking about the many today, not just about the few. That said, and in all candor, we could do without talk like this:
GOLDSTEIN: At Capital Preparatory Harbor Lower School, a charter elementary school in the working-class coastal city of Bridgeport, Conn., about half of the first graders did not set foot inside a classroom during their crucial kindergarten year. Though the school building reopened in January 2021 on a hybrid schedule, many families, concerned about the virus, opted to continue full-time remote learning.
At the beginning of this school year, when all students returned to in-person learning, more than twice as many first graders as before the pandemic tested at kindergarten levels or below in their literacy skills, according to the administration.
Teachers started with the basics: how to orient and hold a book, and where the names of the author and illustrator could be found. The school is using federal stimulus dollars to create classroom libraries filled with titles that appeal to the largely Black and Hispanic students there...
The stimulus money is also paying for a new structured phonics curriculum called Fundations. Given the depth of many students’ struggles with reading, the work has taken on “a level of urgency,” said Garensha John, a first-grade teacher at the school. “Let’s get it done. As soon as they know this, they’ll excel.”
Almost surely, no. Almost surely, the bulk of those good, decent kids will not "excel" as soon as they finish Fundations.
In fairness, that well-intentioned first-grade teacher is talking about the kids at one specific Bridgeport school—a charter school at that. She wasn't saying that lower-income first graders across the country will suddenly excel at their reading if they just get taught some phonics.
Something else is true. Well-intentioned teachers will often make the most hopeful remarks—will present the most hopeful face—as they encourage their students to succeed in school.
That said, newspapers like the New York Times have excelled in reciting such happy talk dating back to the 1960s.
In the modern era, the Times excels at the task of refusing to tell its readers about the size of the achievement gaps found in our public schools. The Times refuses to discuss such issues. Indeed, it won't even report the most basic facts about the size of those punishing gaps.
Almost uniformly, the Times prefers to restrict its gaze to the high-achievers who may end up at Yale. It's a dismissive, uncaring version of upper-class happy talk.
"As soon as they know this, they’ll excel?” Almost surely, no—as a general matter, they won't. But as we've often noted, we've never seen the slightest sign that anyone at the upper-class Times actually knows this or cares.
Tomorrow, we'll return to the essay by Professor Gates. We admire him for his obvious decency. His topic is very important