ILLITERATES EVERYWHERE! The New York Times plays its readers for fools about those Wake County test scores: // link // print // previous // next //
MONDAY, SEPTEMBER 26, 2005
ILLITERATES EVERYWHERE: Is Wake County, N. C. (Greater Raleigh) producing the latest educational miracle? The New York Times Alan Finder seems to want you thinking just that. Heres the heart of his Sunday front-page feel-gooder—the latest laughable Times report about those schools that work:
FINDER (9/25/05): Over the last decade, black and Hispanic students here in Wake County have made such dramatic strides in standardized reading and math tests that it has caught the attention of education experts around the country.Wow! Times readers felt a familiar glow; 80 percent of Wake County black kids scored at grade level on last springs tests! But heres what Finder didnt tell you—across the state of North Carolina, 77 percent of all black kids scored at grade level on those same tests! Thats right; the Times devoted this front-page story to a three-point difference in passing rates—a three-point difference in passing rates on tests almost everyone passes!
So you can grasp the grinding illiteracy found among New York Times ed writers, lets make sure you understand how these numbers work. For example, how well did Wake County black fifth-graders do on last springs reading test? According to the states official results, 88 percent of Wakes black students tested proficient on the state test. But then, 83 of black fifth graders tested proficient on this same test statewide! In short, the large majority of fifth-graders—black, white and brown—tested proficient all over the state! But you never learn that in Finders piece. Instead, you get a warm, fuzzy feeling about Wakes score gains—score gains which Finder attributes to a particular aspect of Wakes educational program.
Have Wakes black passing rates doubled in the past decade? Almost—but then, the same thing has happened all over the state! (Data below. Any chance that the current tests are just easier?) Did 80 percent of Wakes black kids pass last year? Yes—but so did black kids all over the state! In short, Finder is the latest illiterate making a joke of our educational discourse. If we actually care about school kids, he and his editor wont be allowed within a hundred miles of this topic again.
Weve told you this, again and again: Your press corps loves those schools-that-work stories, and theyll do almost anything to throw such tales at you. How well are Wake Countys schools really doing? We dont have the slightest idea. But duh! To all appearances, North Carolina has easy state tests—tests which almost everyone passes. Finder doesnt tell you that. Instead, he makes you feel good.
WHY YOURE BEING PLAYED THIS WAY: Finders piece has an obvious sub-text. Wake County is busing to achieve economic integration—and this is producing big score gains.
For ourselves, we would favor such a program as long as the voters were willing. But these Wake Country test scores provide little evidence of big pay-offs in minority achievement if you enact such a program. Yes, Wake has shown good score gains (most likely on easier tests)—but so have schools all over the state! How can Wakes program account for gains which are happening in all the states districts?
Yes, the gains are occurring all over the state (details below). But apparently, Finder didnt want you to know that. As good pseudo-liberals have endlessly done, he just wanted you feeling real good about a type of program he favors. As good pseudo-liberals have shamelessly done, he wanted you thinking something bogus and cruel: When it comes to the education of poor black children, success is right there for the taking. In various ways, pseudo-liberals have pimped this feel-good pap over the past forty years.
Of course, something else is always possible. Its possible that Finder and his editor didnt realize that black kids passed these tests in large numbers statewide. Its ironic to see such illiterate adults passing judgment on the knowledge of children. But so it has gone, for years, in the nations education press.
DO THE MATH: The details: As Finder noted, 80 percent of Wake County black kids (grades 3-8) passed the state tests this year in both reading and math. But uh-oh! Statewide, 76 percent of blacks kids passed the reading test; 78 percent passed in math. (Minor point of language: Finder says they scored at grade level. The state says they tested proficient.)
But then, you can do the math yourselves! North Carolina has an excellent web site which lets you check all the relevant data, county by county, back to 1994. The info is very easy to access—unless youre a Gotham illiterate.
THOSE TEN-YEAR SCORE GAINS: More details, this time about those ten-year gains in reading. In 1994-95, 52 percent of Wakes black kids passed the statewide reading tests (grades 3-8). By this year, that had jumped to 80 percent. But uh-oh! The same thing has happened all over the state! In 1994-95, 47 percent of all black kids passed the reading test statewide. By this year, that number had jumped to 76 percent. Finder only mentions Wakes gains—and attributes the gains to Wakes program.
By the way, Finder seems to be wrong when he says: In Wake County, only 40 percent of black students in grades three through eight scored at grade level on state tests a decade ago. In 1994-95, 52 percent of Wakes black students passed the state test in reading. That same year, 50 percent of Wakes black kids passed the test in math. But then, you can check that out for yourselves. Thanks to North Carolinas excellent site, the data are there for the taking.
ILLITERACY SPREADS: Youd think theyd know better in Raleigh itself. But yesterday, the News-Observer ran a short piece on Finders report. Heres what locals were handed:
THE NEWS-OBSERVER (9/25/05): Wake County Schools' success at achieving strong academic scores while integrating students economically is the subject of a high-profile article in today's New York Times.Youd think this local paper would know the salient fact—that these scores have gone up all over the state. But the paper repeated the claim, without challenge—the scores have gone up due to Raleighs economic integration program. The News-Observer also repeated that 40 percent a decade ago claim.
How effective is this busing program? If you enact it in one district, scores rise all over the state!
THE BOTTOM LINE: The bottom line in these stories is always this—theres a simple solution to the prevailing disasters of low-income minority education. This claim makes pseudo-liberals feel good. And they get to pretend that red-state rubes are standing in the way of progress. If only they were as enlightened as we, the problem would be over, they get to say. If only theyd adopt the enlightened plan that has worked such wonders in Raleigh!
(By the way, dont you think that Wake Countys superintendent, Bill McNeal, knows that scores have gone up all over the state? We always marvel at public servants who pimp their own genius this way.)
For a report of our first encounter with this general syndrome (in 1972), see THE DAILY HOWLER, 7/8/05. That columnist was hugely wrong about Baltimores schools—and he was clearly a fine, caring person.