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Print view: New York City's achievement gaps remain. But achievement itself is up
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LOOK BEYOND THE GAP! New York City’s achievement gaps remain. But achievement itself is up: // link // print // previous // next //

The Post won’t tell you the truth (about Fox): The intellectual squalor of the mainstream “press corps” is truly a sight to behold. (That said, the “liberal” press corps is gaining ground fast, on-line and on cable.)

Just this morning, Matt Bai presents an astonishing account of Social Security; his piece appears in the New York Times, which ought to be deeply embarrassed. Over at the Washington Post, David Broder’s paean to Saint John McCain is a blast from the Campaign 2000 past, complete with the use of that Vietnamese prison camp as proof of the sanctified solon’s present-day sterling character.

Broder is hopeless; Bai is much worse, since he lacks the excuse of age. But the most remarkable piece in these papers today is this “news report” by the Washington Post’s Michelle Boorstein. Boorstein’s report displays a cultural trait we discussed just two days ago (see the DAILY HOWLER, 8/24/10)—a journalistic law in accordance with which the mainstream press corps agrees not to tell you the truth.

What is that journalistic law? Mainstream reporters mustn’t mention outright misconduct by Fox.

As the New York Times pretended to do this Sunday, Boorstein pretends to discuss the growing flap about sharia law. Plainly, this has become a major part of the growing debate about the mosque which isn’t a mosque. As she starts, Boorstein lays some actual groundwork. In these, her opening paragraphs, the deception hasn’t begun:

BOORSTEIN (8/26/10): For critics of Islam, 'sharia' a loaded word

Protesters of the proposed Islamic center near Ground Zero waved signs there this past Sunday with a single word: Sharia.

Their reference to Islam's guiding principles has become a rallying cry for those critical of Islam, who use the word to conjure images of public stonings and other extreme forms of punishment in countries such as Saudi Arabia or Afghanistan and argue that those tenets are somehow gaining a foothold in the United States.

Every word is accurate—and relevant. Allegations about sharia have become central to the debate about the proposed Islamic cultural center, with critics claiming that Imam Rauf, the project’s sponsor, wants to bring stoning and other such practices to this country. But as she continues, Boorstein pretends to describe the growth of this concern, and her outright deception gets started. Post readers are treated like dust in the passage which follows—and this is precisely what the New York Times did in Sunday’s front-page report:

BOORSTEIN (continuing directly): Blogs with such names as Creeping Sharia and Stop Sharia Now are proliferating. A pamphlet for a "tea party" rally last weekend in Fort Walton Beach, Fla. asked: "Why do Muslims want to take over the world and place us under Shariah law?" Former GOP House speaker Newt Gingrich amplified that point in a much-publicized speech a few weeks ago exploring what he calls "the problem of creeping sharia."

The fact that the word has become akin to a slur in some camps is an alarming development to many religious and political leaders. "We are deeply saddened by those who denigrate a religion which in so many ways is a religion of compassion," Peg Chemberlin, president of the National Council of Churches, said in a statement earlier this month signed by 40 national religious leaders.

Every word is technically accurate. Boorstein even names Gingrich, the one major figure scribes are allowed to name in discussing the fight about the non-mosque. But why are “blogs with such names as Creeping Sharia” proliferating on the web? Why has “the word has become akin to a slur in some camps?” Could it be because of the type of discussion which opened last night’s O’Reilly Factor, the most-watched cable news program?

Laura Ingraham served as guest host on last night’s program. Dick Morris, a monumentally clueless propagandist, quickly began to pimp and proclaim, speaking to millions of viewers:

MORRIS (8/25/10): This mosque has nothing to do with religious freedom or tolerance. People don't understand the fundamental nature of Islam. Islam is a juridical religion just like Judaism is. And Orthodox Jews, who study for the rabbinate, essentially going to law school in studying Talmudic law. And they are there to guide worship, but they're also there to adjudicate disputes under Talmudic law.

Now Talmudic law is wonderful and it is non-violent and it's all of that. But under Islam, the imams are there in charge of applying sharia law. And don't think of it as a mosque. Think of it as a law school in sharia law where they recruit people, train them, indoctrinate them in it. And sharia law has contained within it not just this horrible, vicious abasement of women, which is revolting, throughout it, but it also has jihad and suicide bombing and terrorism built right into the structure.

Just like that, in Morris’ first statement, we were transported to the world of “vicious abasement of women,” with suicide bombing thrown in. In his very first words, he plainly said that the proposed “mosque” would be part of this problem. But then, this picture has been relentlessly served to Fox viewers in the past few weeks. Gingrich may have made one statement about sharia—though we’ve rarely seen it mentioned. But this sort of diatribe has been offered on Fox night after night, with utterly ludicrous claims being offered by people like Morris and Sean Hannity.

Millions of viewers watch these programs on Fox, the cable news ratings monster. Is there any chance that this might explain the way those blogs are “proliferating?”

Not in the Post, it can’t.

Last night, something rare occurred—Ingraham responded to Morris by describing Imam Rauf’s long-stated view of sharia. “Well, Dick, let me tell you what Imam Faisal [Rauf] has said in the past and try to give another point of view here,” she said. “He says that, look—his view of sharia is encouraging self-dignity, independent thought, love for your brethren, harmony, peace, the love of also the American culture. I mean, he thinks that the United States is sharia-compliant…He basically says no, no, no, no, you're misunderstanding what sharia means to him—the Imam Faisal. That's what he says.”

This constituted the very rare moment in which Fox viewers were given some idea of the things Imam Rauf has actually said about sharia, dating back at least to his 2004 book, What’s Right with Islam. (We believe this is the only time we’ve seen such things said on Fox.) According to Rauf, sharia forbids the violent practices Morris had just described! But Ingraham’s presentation was brief—and Morris quickly returned to his jihad. From this point on, Ingraham would make no further attempt to explain Rauf’s long-stated views:

MORRIS: Well, I don't know what rose-colored glasses he's using to read sharia law, but it explicitly embraces jihad and suicide bombings, self-sacrifice and slaying the infidel. It's a crucial part of it.

INGRAHAM: So why is Barack Obama letting this go on? Why is the president of the United States at his already low approval numbers, why is he letting this continue as it is?

MORRIS: Yes, I don't know, Laura. That's a question for a shrink not for a political advisor. He's out of his mind for doing it.

Just that fast, sharia law was said to “explicitly embrace suicide bombings and slaying the infidel,” and Obama was out of his mind. The segment ended thusly:

MORRIS: The enemy here is sharia, not the Islamic religion. And there are plenty of Muslims—the vast majority of them do not live their lives strictly according to sharia. They may not eat pork. They may not drink, but they don't go around killing people. They don't embrace jihad. They don't embrace the duty to slay the infidel.

And what we should be doing is encouraging the construction and propagation of mosques that do not teach sharia. The Saudis, on the other hand, want to push the sharia mosques. They don't embrace jihad. They don't embrace the duty to slay the infidel. What we should be doing is encouraging the construction and propagation of mosques that do not teach sharia.

The Saudis, on the other hand, want to push the sharia mosques. What you have to do is understand the enemy is sharia, not Islam.

INGRAHAM: Yes. All right, Dick, we appreciate it.

One could defend the bulk of last night’s exchange as being technically accurate. After Morris’ opening accusation, Ingraham accurately described Rauf’s views; Morris merely said Rauf was nuts if he believes such nonsense. He then condemned a violent form of “sharia,” without naming Rauf again as he did so. But Fox viewers have heard much harsher accounts of Rauf’s beliefs in the past few weeks, over and over and over again, especially from Sean Hannity (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 8/23/10). Just a guess: Most viewers who heard Morris’ rant about violent sharia had already heard that Imam Rauf wants to bring these practices to this country. Ingraham’s account of Rauf’s views came quickly, then left. A different, malevolent account of his views has been quite general on Fox.

You know these things if you read this site—or if you actually watch Fox, which very few liberals do. But readers of the Washington Post won’t know any of these things after reading Boorstein’s report. Just like the New York Times’ Anne Barnard before her, Boorstein failed to mention the nightly demonizations which are being pounded on Fox. She mentioned a few minor blogs, and that statement by Gingrich.

Just as in Sunday’s New York Times, Fox is not involved.

Hannity pimps this shit to millions of viewers each night. Trembling with fear and deceiving her readers, Boortstein wiped that conduct away. Adding to the general air of avoidance, Boorstein went on to offer an academized review of sharia, making very little attempt to explain the views of Imam Rauf, who lies at the heart of this storm. Absurdly, Boorstein devoted one paragraph to Rauf’s view of sharia—and two paragraphs to explaining the views of “the Rev. Canon Julian M. Dobbs, who oversees Muslim engagement for the umbrella group of conservative Anglicans who broke away from the Episcopal Church in North America.”

Rauf lies at the heart of the storm; Dobbs is inconsequential. Boorstein devoted more than twice as much space to the latter’s views.

In fairness, we can’t get inside Boorstein head, or the heads of her editors. Nor can we get inside Barnard’s head as we try to explain her disgraceful front-page report, in which she blamed a minor blogger for the sharia crap, without naming Hannity at all. That said, Boorstein has airbrushed Hannity’s conduct today, just as Barnard did on Sunday. The likely explanation for this pattern is clear:

Let’s state the obvious: Trembling mainstream” “news organizations” have agreed that they won’t mention Fox, a news org which tends to hit back. In the process, the American public finds itself baldly deceived about the sharia debate. Why is fear of sharia spreading? Why are blogs proliferating? We’re sure that several big players are involved, but pack a bigger punch than Fox.

So what? By law, Fox can’t be mentioned.

Mainstream “journalists” will sometimes name Gingrich, who is a politician. But a rather clear tenet of Hard Pundit Law seems to be guiding this rolling deception. Fox can drive this discussion as much as it likes—and its name will never be mentioned! According to Nexis, Hannity’s name hasn’t appeared in the New York Times all month. It hasn’t appeared in the Washington Post in connection with this major conflict.

Readers were deceived today. But then, what else is new?

Special report: Who cares about black kids?

PART 3—LOOK BEYOND THE GAP (permalink): The state of New York’s revamping of its statewide tests is a massively underplayed scandal. Everyone is being polite and controlled, as state elites will often be when confronted by such circumstances. (Coming Friday: A flashback from the state of Virginia, which copped to a somewhat similar scandal in 2006—to silence all around.) But let’s make sure we understand what the state has said and done in this case, which is in fact a major scandal—unless you’re reading our “liberal journals” or our big mainstream news orgs, none of whom seem to give a rat’s ass about the lives of black kids.

Basically, the state of New York has said that its statewide testing in recent years constituted a series of frauds—that its soaring statewide passing rates can no longer be credited. “The only possible conclusion is that something strange has happened to our test,” said David Steiner, the state’s new education commissioner, as he reviewed the weird scoring patterns churned by the previous statewide tests—as he threw the state of New York’s existing tests into a big trash can. (“The claims were based on some bad information,” said Michael Petrilli, an educational expert, discussing the way claims of success from New York City had to be thrown down the drain.)

Astonishing! Test results from an unstated number of years have thus been thrown away. These previous data are now inoperative. A major fraud has transpired in the state of New York—but as elites typically do in such cases, everyone is gripping and grinning and acting like nothing occurred.

In New York City, things seem even worse. Citywide passing rates dropped like stones on this year’s new tests—but that occurred all over the state. In New York City, one other result of the switch to new tests seems even worse; when the new statewide tests were given this year, the city’s “shameful achievement gaps” came roaring back, with a vengeance. In recent years, it had seemed that passing rates by black and Hispanic kids were gaining ground on the passing rates of white kids; Mayor Bloomberg and Chancellor Klein had touted this apparent success far and wide. But uh-oh! Those wider “achievement gaps” returned with this year’s more reliable tests. This claimed success had been an illusion.

Modern liberals don’t care about such things, but some New York City parents did. They expressed their “outrage” last Monday night, as they met with Chancellor Klein.

Karen Zraick reported the unruly meeting in the New York Times. Booing and chanting, angry parents produced such an “upheaval” that the meeting had to be stopped. “Where is the accountability?” asked Evelyn Feliciano, saying her son’s test scores had dropped drastically.

Darlings, those parents lacked all finesse! That said, it’s good to see that someone still seems to care about the interests of low-income kids.

Jeering parents expressed their “outrage” when they met with Chancellor Klein. That said, Klein was almost certainly right that evening when he told the parents that things aren’t as bad as they seem. According to Zraick’s account of the meeting, Klein “said that despite the drop in this year’s scores after the state recalibrated its standardized exams, students citywide were still making substantial progress, based on graduation rates and other data.” We’ll guess that among those “other data,” Klein was referring to test scores from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (the NAEP). The NAEP is a forty-year-old, federally administered program; it is widely described as the “gold standard” of American testing—as “America’s report card.”

Data from the NAEP remain viable, despite the fraud which has occurred in New York State’s own statewide testing program.

There are no known problems with the NAEP data, which come from a highly-regarded test program. And in the wake of that gloomy report in the Times, the following facts deserve to be noted: New York City kids have made significant progress on the NAEP during the Bloomberg years. This is true of all major demographic groups—black kids, Hispanic kids, white kids.

The NAEP is described, by one and all, as “the gold standard” of American testing. And guess what? In New York City during the Bloomberg years, everyone’s scores have improved on the NAEP. It’s true—the NAEP only tests in the fourth and eighth grades. But the NAEP remains the gold standard—and no one has given any reason to think that these rising test scores are invalid.

What has happened on the NAEP during the Bloomberg years? Let’s review the data from the NAEP’s Trial Urban District Assessment, in which a significant number of big urban systems have been tested over the past ten years. (For the full Trial Urban reading report, click here. For the full math report, click this. In each case, detailed data for New York City appear around page 66.)

What has occurred on the NAEP in New York City? Everyone’s test scores have improved during the Bloomberg years! In the following segments, we compare average scores in 2009 to those obtained in 2002, the start of the Bloomberg years:

In fourth grade math, black kids scored nine points higher on average in 2009 than black kids had done in 2002. Hispanic kids gained ten points over that seven-year span. White kids gained ten points.

(How big a gain is a ten-point gain? For a rough rule of thumb, see below.)

In fourth grade reading, a similar pattern obtains. On average, black kids in New York City gained eleven points. Hispanic kids gained seven points. White kids gained nine.

In eighth grade math, there were similar gains, except among Hispanic kids. Black kids gained eight points, on average, from 2002 through 2009. White kids gained nine points. Hispanic kids gained only one.

Eighth grade reading is the one area where scores essentially stayed the same during the Bloomberg years—where the overall pattern is flat. Black kids and white kids each gained one point from 2002 through 2009. Hispanic kids lost four points.

Question: How big a gain is a ten-point gain? On the NAEP scale, is ten points a lot or a little? That, of course, is a very good question. If the New York Times ever starts doing its job in this area, it will start assessing that question through careful interviews with the NAEP’s directors. But a rough rule of thumb is often offered when discussing the NAEP; it is often said that a ten-point gain equals roughly one academic year. At this site, we have always said this: We regard that as a very rough rule of thumb, although it is frequently offered. But if anything like that rule obtains, some very good gains have been recorded during the Bloomberg years, except in eighth-grade reading, where the scores have been flat.

All three major groups have gained on the NAEP during the Bloomberg years. The New York Times should have explained this matter in last week’s (largely bungled) report. Tiny hints scattered through the report suggested the existence of these gains, without ever making the matter clear. This is the puzzling way the report ended, for example:

OTTERMAN AND GEBELOFF (8/16/10): While the slow improvement of all groups is “still a success story,” Mr. Petrilli said, the achievement gap, which shows how different groups perform relative to one another, still means that most black and Hispanic students will be at a sharp disadvantage when they have to compete against white and Asian peers as they move through schools and into the workplace.

While the gap is not closing, Mr. Klein said he was encouraged that the scores for black and Hispanic students were rising nonetheless.

“Do I wish that we had eliminated the entire achievement gap?” he said. “Sure.”

According to Otterman and Gebeloff, Petrilli had referring to the “slow improvement of all groups” in New York City. In the next paragraph, Klein was paraphrased saying that “the scores for black and Hispanic students were rising.” But Otterman and Gebeloff didn’t explain what “scores” Klein meant, and they didn’t explain what Petrilli meant when he referred to improvement by all groups. Indeed, at no point in their lengthy report did they ever explain that Gotham kids had made significant gains on the nation’s most respected testing program. Midway through their report, they did offer this opaque reference to the NAEP, penning a short discussion of the program which they largely bungled:

OTTERMAN AND GEBELOFF: Mr. Klein began to use test scores to measure schools’ performance, and joined with the Rev. Al Sharpton in forming the Education Equality Project in 2008 to promote good instruction and education reform for minority and poor children. “It is certainly what makes Joel Klein tick,” said Kati Haycock, the president of the Education Trust, which advocates for progress on the issue. “And you can’t say that for everyone.”

The city has even tried to attack the deeper issue of how children are reared at home, by offering some families monetary incentives to go to the dentist for checkups, for example, or to maintain good school attendance. The three-year-old pilot project was ended in March after it showed only modest results.

For several years, data suggested that the city had seen improvements among all ethnic groups, including in graduation rates, which have risen about 14 percentage points for black and Hispanic students since 2005, and [on] a national standardized test given every other year to a sampling of fourth and eighth graders.

In that final paragraph, we have added a missing word to that reference to the NAEP, the nation’s most highly-regarded test program. In that paragraph, the writers began a bungled discussion of the results from this (unnamed) program, a discussion which glossed the substantial gains which seem to have been recorded on this test. Adding ineptitude to injury, the pair proceeded in the following manner, bungling as they go and failing to name “the national test” which is, in fact, the NAEP:

OTTERMAN AND GEBELOFF (continuing directly): Even so, the scores on the national test, considered tougher than the state tests, did not exactly show a mastery of material. Forty-nine percent of white students and 17 percent of black students showed proficiency on the fourth-grade English test in 2009, for example, up from 45 percent of white students and 13 percent of black students in 2003.

The city made no statistically significant progress in closing the racial achievement gap in that time, said Arnold Goldstein, a statistician at the National Center for Education Statistics, which administers the national test. With few exceptions, including Charlotte, N.C., and Washington, D.C., the achievement gap on the national tests has remained constant in all major cities.

Alas! In its voluminous public materials, the NAEP does not use passing rate as its principal unit of measure, presumably for several reasons. Instead, it uses a more inclusive unit of measure, average score—and the NAEP’s public reports plainly show New York City’s black kids making “statistically significant” progress during the Bloomberg years in fourth grade reading, eighth grade reading and fourth grade math. Hispanic kids are shown making “statistically significant” progress only in fourth grade math, though this doesn’t mean that their seven-point gain in fourth-grade reading was illusory or unimportant.

Alas! If it weren’t for doing such projects poorly, the New York Times wouldn’t do them at all. Before we see how New York City’s score gains on the NAEP in this period compare to those of New York State as a whole, let’s get clear on an important distinction: The distinction between “achievement” and “achievement gaps.”

“Achievement” and “achievement gaps” are two different critters. Each is important, but Otterman and Gebeloff focused almost exclusively on the latter, creating a fair amount of confusion in the process. In the course of doing so, they conveyed the sense that New York City’s achievement gaps haven’t been narrowing. And it’s true—achievement gaps have largely held steady on the NAEP. But the public should be told why.

Look again at those healthy gains in fourth grade math achievement. Between 2002 and 2009, black kids gained nine points on average. Hispanic kids gained ten points. White kids also gained ten.

Black kids and Hispanics kids both made healthy gains on the NAEP during the Bloomberg years. In fourth grade math, their achievement was substantially higher in 2009 than it had been in 2002. But because white kids also made healthy gains, the achievement gaps among these groups stayed roughly the same in this period.

Achievement gaps have remained—but achievement is higher, for all three groups. The parents at that unruly meeting deserve to see this explained.

Final point: It’s worth observing the way New York City’s score gains outpaced those of New York State during this seven-year period. The following overall score gains obtain on the NAEP:

In fourth grade math, New York City gained eleven points. The state of New York gained five. (Presumably, a good chunk of that statewide gain was concentrated in New York City.)

In fourth grade reading, New York City gained eleven points; the state of New York gained two. (Presumably, scores were basically flat in New York State except for the gains in the city.)

Eighth grade math: New York City gained seven points. The state of New York gained three.

Eighth grade reading: New York City gained no points. The state of New York lost one point.

Everybody praises the NAEP—but nobody ever discusses its data! Some day, the New York Times may step up to the plate and do some serious work in this area. But liberal journals? “Liberal” TV shows? They will never cover these topics. As is apparent to all who would see, the vastly self-impressed liberal world walked away from black kids decades ago. The nation’s minority kids can go hang, to judge from our work in these areas.

Tomorrow: Achievement gains, and achievement gaps, in the nation as a whole