July 15, 2007

Some Things Don't Change

It's good to see that the New York Times is still cranking out deeply flawed education articles. Today's flawed article is on the continuing discrimination by big city schools in the name of diversity. The Times is for diversity-based discrimination, so I wasn't exactly expecting a balanced article. I didn't get one. Today's article focuses on San Francisco's failed attempts at discriminating on the basis of race without making it look like they were discriminating on the basis of race in order to comply with the law.

The San Francisco experience is telling because after the recent United States Supreme Court decision restricting the use of race-based school assignment plans, many districts are expected to switch to economic integration plans like San Francisco’s as a legal way to seek diversity. As many as 40 districts around the country are already experimenting with such plans, according to an analysis by Richard D. Kahlenberg of the Century Foundation, a nonpartisan public policy research group.

At one time in certain parts of the country, we had de jure segregation. There were actually laws in place that mandated racial segregation. That's real discrimination and the Brown line of Supreme Court decisions put an end to that. That was a good thing, but it did not end segregation because the various racial and ethnic groups had already segregated themselves voluntarily, i.e., lunch table segregation. This is de facto segregation, i.e., segregation in fact. The important distinct is that de facto segregation is voluntary; there are no laws requiring any sort of segregation. In the absence of discriminatory laws, society still voluntarily segregated itself.

This state of affairs was deemed unacceptable to the do-gooders who run the public schools who convinced themselves that in order to achieve their racial utopia it would be OK to discriminate on the basis of race. The result was busing. And in the ensuing 20 some odd years we found out first hand that it didn't work out too well. In fact, it failed miserably to achieve the educational advantages it was supposed to. Defense's exhibit one: NAEP. 35 years of flat scores.

Despite this history of failure, many big city school districts and the Times still think this brand of discrimination is desirable and would like to see it continued despite the Supreme Court's recent rulings which are slowly declaring the discriminatory practice unconstitutional. This Times story is a puff piece on how some school districts are creatively attempting to continue these discriminatory practices under a thinly-veiled disguise -- economic integration. Instead of condemning the unconstitutional practice, the Times laments the fact that the ruse isn't working in San Francisco.

Apparently, if you call it "diversity" discrimination is OK even when it continues to fail to achieve the desired outcome of improving educational achievement. Diversity becomes the goal, not improved education. The Times explains:

The purpose of such programs is twofold. Since income levels often correlate with race they can be an alternate and legal way to produce racial integration. They also promote achievement gains by putting poorer students in schools that are more likely to have experienced teachers and students with high aspirations, as well as a parent body that can afford to be more involved.

I suppose if the goal is to "promote achievement gains" the programs might be desirable. But, if the goal is to actually achieve achievement gains, the programs aren't working, shaky statistical shenanigans later in the story notwithstanding.

Putting poor students in schools with experienced teachers is not a guaranteed way to increase achievement. It depends on what those teachers are teaching.

Putting poor students in classes with "students with high aspirations" seems cruel to me since the poor students will likely not achieve as well as these brighter students. The message they get day in and day out is that they aren't as good as these high aspiring students.

And, last I checked putting poor kids into a school with "a parent body that can afford to be more involved" won't make a whit of difference if the poor kid's parents can't afford to be (or otherwise aren't) involved.

This is pretty shaky rhetoric by the Times. I suppose they thought the reader might see right through it, so they backed it up with an "expert" who was willing to lie for them.

“There is a large body of evidence going back several years,” Mr. Kahlenberg said, “that probably the most important thing you can do to raise the achievement of low-income students is to provide them with middle-class schools.”

No there isn't. There isn't a large body of evidence (not even a small body of evidence) that says anything of the sort. This is an outright lie.

The Times backs this up again with more shenanigans:

The achievement gains have been sharp, and school officials said economic integration was largely responsible. Only 40 percent of black students in grades three through eight in Wake County, where Raleigh is located, scored at grade level on state reading tests in 1995. By the spring of 2006, 82 percent did.

I guess the Times forgets that between the years of 1995 and 2006 a little law called No Child Left Behind was passed that encouraged states to goose their tests to make it appear that students were achieving at higher levels in order to comply with the law.

I'm too lazy to check for myself on this Sunday morning, but I'll bet that student performance in North Carolina schools increased by a similar margin state-wide and failed to make the same gains in the NAEP.

The article goes on to describe some amusing ironies that these ham-fisted programs have wrought with the introduction of northeast Asian immigrants and how the populace does whatever it can to play along with the nonsensical rules. Apparently real people aren't quite as concerned about segregation as the Times thinks.


Eric said...

The NEA asserted in its Seattle amicus brief a "compelling governmental interest in educating all of our children to function effectively in a multiracial, democratic society and realize their full intellectual and academic potential." Given current math and reading curricula, don't you wonder if professional development and classroom practice support the declared "compelling interest?" Wonder if the presidential candidates who appeared at the NEA convention will hold NEA members responsible for focussing on the nation's compelling interest or will the NEA's self-interest prevail? Could it be the NEA is engaged in thinly veiled partisan politics at the expense of the nation and the schoolchildren whose interests the allege to support?

Parentalcation said...

"I'm too lazy to check for myself on this Sunday morning, but I'll bet that student performance in North Carolina schools increased by a similar margin state-wide and failed to make the same gains in the NAEP."\

You don't have to check... The Daily Howler already did it for you.

Have Wake’s 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 Wake’s 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 won’t be allowed within a hundred miles of this topic again.


THOSE TEN-YEAR SCORE GAINS: More details, this time about those ten-year gains in reading. In 1994-95, 52 percent of Wake’s 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 Wake’s gains—and attributes the gains to Wake’s program.

I do think integration would improve achievement for low SES children. I am been playing around with NAEP scores, and determined that there are small differences in achievement for blacks and low income students as the proportion of middle class white kids increases. The increase peaks out at a 5-10% mass. Funny enough, schools with that have less black and or low SES students actually have a dip in scores after they go below 5%.

Even at this peak ratio, there is still a significant achievement gap. There is also the matter of finding enough white middle class students to delute the huge numbers of poor and minority students concentrated in Urban areas. To be successful we would need to take every poor and minority student in the country and randomly sprinkle them across the country.