FRIDAY, MAY 20, 2022
Let's take a look at the record(s): Long ago and far away, we performed at an annual meeting of Baltimore City teachers.
Or was it teachers from the whole state of Maryland? Actually, we think it was, but we can't exactly recall.
We were no longer a Baltimore City Public Schools teacher ourselves. Operating now as a comedian, we joked about the various "simple solutions" we Baltimore teachers had been encountering over the past dozen years.
We'll briefly recall that moment below. First, let's focus on an important question:
How serious is the "literary crisis" Mayor Eric Adams is (said to be) hoping to "turn around?"
In a recent report in the New York Times, a young reporter framed the situation that way. The mayor had proposed a plan "to turn around a literacy crisis in New York City," she inexpertly said.
Four paragraphs later, this young reporter described the shape and the size of the "crisis." Once again, and for the last time, this is what she wrote:
New York [City] 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.
Fewer than half of Gotham's kids were proficient on the 2019 reading exams, the young reporter said. And not only that:
Thanks to the pandemic, things are believed to be worse today. Black and Hispanic kids seemed to have the lowest rates of proficiency back in 2019.
Question! Does it make sense to suppose that Mayor Adams can "turn [that situation] around?" Also this:
In the vast sweep of things, just how severe is that crisis?
The New York Times rarely bothers itself with questions of that type. The famous and famously upper-class newspaper rarely assigns itself the task of defining the shape and the size of this problem.
Today and tomorrow, we'll try to show you some basic data—data from the annual New York State exams, but also from the National Assessment of Education Progress (Naep), the federally-run program which is considered to be the gold standard of domestic educational testing.
What is the shape and the size of New York City's "crisis?" Below, we'll run you through the types of information you'll never find in the New York Times, which routinely restricts its focus to kids who might end up at Yale.
We'll start with the annual New York State exams—the exams which Lola Fadulu cited in her report for the Times.
The New York State exams
Fewer than half of New York City students were proficient on the state reading exams in 2019, Fadulu noted in her lengthy report.
As best we can tell, that's an accurate statement. (It's amazingly hard to find full data sets from New York City for this annual testing program.) That said, we should quickly add this:
Across the entire state of New York, the proficiency rate seems to have been slightly lower than it was in New York City. New York City's proficiency rate trumped that of the state as a whole!
At this official site, the state of New York reports that the proficiency rate for the entire state stood at 45 percent. In Gotham, the overall proficiency rate was slightly higher.
In Gotham, the proficiency rate on the 2019 reading exam seems to have been 47.4 percent. That is indeed "fewer than half," but it's slightly higher than the proficiency rate for the state as a whole.
And not only that! If you "disaggregate" those test results—if you look at the proficiency rates for different groups of kids by ethnicity and race—then Gotham's kids tended to outperform their peers across the state in those measures too. At the Manhattan Institute, Ray Domanico broke it down as shown:
DOMANICO (3/26/20): Students in every racial group in NYC traditional public or charter schools outperform their peers in the rest of the state.
In traditional public schools, white students in New York City score well above white students in the rest of the state. Other racial groups do better in NYC than in the rest of the state by smaller margins than white students.
That may not be what a subscriber might be inclined to suspect. As best we can tell from the scattershot availability of reliable data, Domanico's account is fully accurate, at least as far as it goes.
That said, several problems lurk. For starters, this doesn't erase the "achievement gaps" found within these data. Here are the proficiency rates for different groups of kids in the New York City Public Schools:
Proficiency rates, 2019 statewide reading exams
New York City Public Schools, Grades 3-8
White kids: 66.6%
Black kids: 35.0%
Hispanic kids: 36.5%
Asian ancestry kids: 67%
Those are the data on which Fadulu drew in her brief account of the "literacy crisis" the city is facing—the literary crisis the mayor's new plan is (said to be) designed to "turn around."
Is there any reason to believe that the mayor's plan might accomplish something like that? We're going to guess that the answer is no, for reasons we'll touch on below.
Now for a few other problems:
A significant number of parents across the state of New York refuse to let their kids take the annual statewide exams. Our guess would be this:
Those refusals may tend to tilt the results of the statewide tests in the favor of Gotham's kids.
With that in mind, we'll turn to results from the National Assessment of Educational Progress, the federally-run testing program we mentioned above.
On the Naep. the bar for proficiency is set a good deal higher than on the New York State exams. (In the end, these are always subjective assessments.)
Some experts have said that the bar for "proficiency" on the Naep is set artificially high. Keeping that assessment in mind, we'll show you Grade 8 proficiency rates from the 2019 Naep for New York City, for New York State, and for the nation's public schools as a whole.
We'll present those data tomorrow. As you will be able to see, Gotham's kids will no longer be outperforming their statewide peers in every case. Also, they won't be outperforming their counterparts nationwide in every case, though in general they'll come fairly close.
While we're at it, please remember this:
In the end, "proficiency" is a subjective assessment. You can't measure a student's "reading proficiency" in the same precise and "objective" way you can measure his height and his weight.
That said, the achievement gaps are still visible, and are quite substantial, in the Naep reading data. This is part of a long-standing American "literary crisis" which does, in fact, need to be "turned around."
Evening at the Teachers' Meeting: a comedy performance
Long ago and far away, we entertained a group of Baltimore City and (we think) Maryland public school teachers.
If memory serves, the commissioner was there. She was quite good-natured and gracious.
We joked about the endless array of miracle cures which urban teachers of that era had been asked to negotiate—the endless array of programs designed to "turn around" our nation's public school problems.
We recall joking about the one-year reign of "open classrooms"—the weird idea that there shouldn't be any actual walls between kids in different classrooms.
That revolutionary idea came and went within the space of a single year. From there, it was on to the next miracle cure. And yes, the audience laughed.
Over the past sixty years, many proposals have come and come—proposals designed to "turn around" the deeply engrained shortcomings in our public schools. In the modern era, newspapers like the New York Times no longer seem to care about matters like this, or about the vast number of good, decent kids who are involved, through no fault of their own, in this undesirable situation.
Mayor Adams has made a proposal. We applaud him for his interest in the vast array of Gotham's kids, as opposed to the top few percent.
That said, no experienced person with an ounce of sense would accept his proposal at face value. The fact that his intentions seem to be pure doesn't mean that his ideas are sound.
Meanwhile, sure enough! When the mayor released his plan, the New York Times assigned a young non-specialist to report on the proposal.
Lola Fadulu is very bright; as far as we have ever heard, she's done everything right in her life. But the Times was showing its endless disdain for Gotham's kids when it made that assignment.
Is there any reason to think that the mayor's proposal can "turn around" New York City's public schools?
History suggests that the answer is no—that experienced and savvy people should function here as skeptics. On the brighter side, you won't likely be asked to encounter such downers in the New York Times (or in the Washington Post).
When it comes to New York City's schools, the New York Times writes about the top few percent—the kids who might end up at Yale, or maybe just at Brown.
It throws the rest of the students away. This pattern is quite well established.
We've never seen a "career liberal" journalist say even one word about this journalistic preference. Dearest darlings, use your heads! It simply isn't done!
In part, this is who, and this is what, our self-impressed, endlessly moralizing blue tribe really is.
We care about black kids when they get shot (but only when they get shot by policemen). Other than that, we pay such good and decent kids amazingly little mind.
This doesn't mean that we're bad people over here in our tribe. It simply means that we're people people.
It tends to suggest that, in the end, our treasured journalistic elites just don't ginormously care. They do like to entertain and edify us with endless dreck like this:
In Court, Johnny Depp and Amber Heard Dress to Suggest
Tomorrow: For whatever it may be worth, proficiency rates from the Naep