TUESDAY, MAY 17, 2022
And the New York Times' new reporter: It was an unusual moment in the recent history of the New York Times.
When it comes to the New York City Public Schools, the paper of record typically concerns itself with the highest achieving students only—with the top few percent.
Which of these higher-achieving kids, and from which racial and ethnic groups, will get into Stuyvesant High, then possibly move on to Yale? As we've noted again and again and again, the New York Times fills its front pages with anguished reports about those questions.
The vast majority of students—the good, decent kids who won't be going to Yale—are rarely given the time of day in this Hamptons-based upper-class newspaper.
Last Friday morning, the New York Times published different type of report. This news report concerned the struggles of the hundreds of thousands of good, decent kids who won't proceed from Gotham's public schools to the hallowed halls of Yale or Harvard or Brown.
Amazingly, New York City's new mayor, Eric Adams, has voiced concern about Gotham's more numerous and more typical kids! He has voiced concern about the way those hundreds of thousands of good, decent kids may struggle in hit city's public schools.
This new mayor has even produced a proposal addressing the needs of these good, decent kids! In last Friday's New York Times, the news report about his proposal started like this, headline included:
Mayor Adams Unveils Program to Address Dyslexia in N.Y.C. Schools
Mayor Eric Adams announced Thursday the details of a plan to turn around a literacy crisis in New York City and, in particular, to serve thousands of children in public schools who may have dyslexia, an issue deeply personal to the mayor, who has said his own undiagnosed dyslexia hurt his academic career.
School officials plan to screen nearly all students for dyslexia, while 80 elementary schools and 80 middle schools will receive additional support for addressing the needs of children with dyslexia. The city will also open two new dyslexia programs—one at P.S. 125 Ralph Bunche in Harlem and the other at P.S. 161 Juan Ponce de Leon in the South Bronx—with a goal of opening similar programs in each borough by 2023.
Officials also plan to train all teachers, and will create a new dyslexia task force. School leaders are requiring school principals to pivot to a phonics-based literacy curriculum, which literacy experts say is the most effective way to teach reading to most children.
“Dyslexia holds back too many of our children in school but most importantly in life,” Mr. Adams said during a press briefing Thursday morning, adding that it “haunts you forever until you can get the proper treatment that you deserve.”
According to the news report, the mayor has released a plan designed "to turn around a literacy crisis" in New York City's public schools. His proposal will focus on screening kids for dyslexia, whatever dyslexia is.
For the record, reports about admission to Stuyvesant High tend to appear on the New York Times' front page. This report about the mayor's far-reaching plan was banished to page A21.
That said, we start by tipping our hat to the mayor for caring about the mass of New York City's kids, not just the top few percent. Beyond that, we tip our hat to the mayor for understanding the way his city's kids can be "haunted," damaged, forever harmed if they're unlucky enough to be among the large number of kids who struggle in Gotham's public schools.
We applaud the new mayor for his focus. At this point, "the eternal note of sadness" must also be brought to the fore.
To anyone with an ounce of sense or a bit of experience, that instant reference to "turn[ing] around a literacy crisis" will surely sound perhaps a bit Pollyannish. As she continued, reporter Lola Fadulu offered this capsule account of the size and shape of the problem found in the city's schools:
FADULU (continuing directly from above): New York is facing a literacy crisis: Fewer than half of all third to eighth graders and just 36 percent of Black and Latino students were proficient on the state reading exams administered in 2019, the most recent year for which there is data. Research suggests that the coronavirus pandemic has only worsened those outcomes.
The lack of easily accessible academic support for children with dyslexia has been an issue that has been top of mind for the mayor. He has said his own dyslexia went undiagnosed for years because his mother didn’t have the necessary information to get him screened. He recalled “not wanting to come into school every day because I just couldn’t keep up.”
Developing a universal dyslexia screening program in the city’s schools was one of the few specific policy prescriptions the mayor offered during his campaign. He has devoted $7.4 million in his proposed budget for addressing dyslexia and other literacy issues.
In 2019, in grades 3-8, fewer than half of Gotham's public school kids "were proficient on the state reading exams." The proficiency rate of black and Hispanic kids stood at roughly 36 percent.
Before the week is done, we'll offer you a more detailed statistical look at this state of affairs.
In some ways, this situation may be better than you think; in some ways, it might be worse. But to the extent that this is "a literary crisis," it's a crisis which has been faced by the public schools of New York City and the nation dating back many long years.
At this site, we tip our hat to Mayor Adams for the shape of his concern. He's concerned about the many kids in his giant city, not just the top few percent!
At the Times, this focus pushed last Friday's report from page A1 back to A21. The best and the brightest get love at the Times. Other children may get left behind.
Our question today is this:
Can Mayor Adams, for all his good intentions, really "turn around" this "literary crisis?" Does his proposal make good sense? Is there reason to think that it will succeed—and if so, to what extent?
What are the prospects for this proposal? As someone who's watched public schools since the 1960s, we're forced to voice a bit of skepticism about the mayor's plan.
The mayor is very new to this game, and many ballyhooed proposals have preceded his. We admire the mayor for his focus, but we'd want to hear more—much, much more—about the actual shape of his plan.
It's at this point that we turn again to the journalistic culture of the Times. Mayor Adams is new to this task, but so is the very bright Fadulu—a young, relatively inexperienced reporter who isn't an education specialist.
Nothing we say in the course of this week will be intended as a criticism of Fadulu. She didn't assign herself this task of covering this proposal. It isn't her judgment, or her doing, that has a "general assignment reporter" covering this sweeping new plan in this highly technical area.
The decision to assign Fadulu to this task comes from the heart of the Times itself. And at the Times, the pattern holds:
The Times assigns its education specialists (such as they are) to its front-page news reports about the top few percent. Reports about the mass of kids are assigned to less experienced scribes.
Fadulu is young, and she's smart. That said, she isn't experienced in this field, and it seems to us that her report displays this lack of experience at various junctures.
This is the way the New York Times tends to cover the public schools. If you're headed for Brown, you can stick around! Everyone else can get back.
Tomorrow: For starters, what's dyslexia?