Mind the Achievement Gap

The New York Times picked up on the MDRC report I had written about here. This was the report that credited Bloomberg’s small schools with higher graduation rates in New York City. Despite the fatal flaws in the report, the NY Times (as is the case with the media in general), parroted its pro-Bloomberg findings.

And yet, in the same issue, the NY Times also ran a story about the achievement gap. The studies they cite find that the racial achievement gap has been narrowing while the income achievement gap has been expanding. As it says in the article: “One reason for the growing gap in achievement, researchers say, could be that wealthy parents invest more time and money than ever before in their children (in weekend sports, ballet, music lessons, math tutors, and in overall involvement in their children’s schools), while lower-income families, which are now more likely than ever to be headed by a single parent, are increasingly stretched for time and resources.”

Interesting, since the small schools that the Times so highly touts have fewer of these activities than the large schools they replaced. Does this mean the small schools only serve to perpetuate the achievement gap between rich and poor? I suppose this contradiction is lost on the editorial board of the NY Times.

It is high time that the media stops equating improved graduation rates with success. All they are doing is worshipping at the altar of data that has defined the Bloomberg regime from the start.

Graduation rates are up because standards are down. Replacing one large school with four small ones requires a massive shake up of the staff. The veteran teachers are fired or reassigned, then replaced with pliable youngsters from Teach for America and the Teaching Fellows. At the same time, four new schools mean four new principals and a boatload more assistant principals. There is a higher administrator-to-teacher ratio, allowing administrators more time to meddle in the affairs of the teachers in their charge.

Anybody who has worked in a small school knows what all of this adds up to. The reduced teacher load for administrators means they can have one-on-one conferences with their teachers to question them about the grades of their students. Each teacher’s passing rates are compared to the passing rates of every other teacher in the school, and then the passing rates of the system at large. The message is clear: this percentage of students must pass, no matter what. If not, expect more meetings, more observations, more nitpicking and more harassment.

So teachers pass kids who really have not learned anything. They find nonsense extra credit assignments so their struggling students can make up the points required to pass. The only students who end up failing are the truants that make their appearance a couple of times a month. For the select few that actually fail, they now are able to take online credit recovery classes, many times on subjects that have no relation to those that they failed.

Then these students get turned loose into the real world. Whether they go to college or into the workforce, they have been trained to believe that they are entitled to rewards for shoddy work. If they struggle, they have been trained to expect second, third, fourth, fifth and sixth chances. This is a major reason why those graduates that the NY Times and the MDRC so mindlessly applaud end up dropping out of college by their second year.

But our graduates have little to fear. President Obama is on a mission to ensure that what standards are left in college go right out the window. He wants more online classes, lower-salaried professors and, ultimately, a college teaching staff with no autonomy at all. That way, professors will be too scared to fail anybody and our illustrious high school graduates can continue to get unlimited chances for another four years.

This is all as it should be in the corporate takeover of our schools and our country. The truth is that the reformers do want our graduates to have any capacity for independent thought at all. It is not as if the jobs that they intend to provide in the future will require any skill outside of punching a few buttons or reading from a script. Giving the gift of critical thinking to the low-wage functionaries of the future would just put ideas in their head that are too big for their station in life. We saw what happened when the slaves of the American south got a taste of book learning: revolts, uprisings and a rejection of subservience.

Publications of record like the NY Times are complicit in the destruction of the American mind. Do not be fooled with their apparent concern for the socioeconomic achievement gap. The policies they laud are only designed to perpetuate and widen that gap.

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9 responses to “Mind the Achievement Gap

  1. This is well said. You could not have said it any better. It’s a Very sad place for our children to be.

  2. At his small school, my husband taught a current events elective last semester. For this semester, he was planning to design a psychology curriculum. He’d taught psychology in the past at a big school and found that the students responded very positively. But it turns out, he will not teach psychology in this school. Instead, he will be teaching a Regents prep class to seniors who need to pass the examination to graduate. His very effective Regents prep curriculum involves a lot of flashcards and drilling students on random associations, e.g. Attaturk – Turkey – Westernization / Modernization.

    You have a very good point here. But lambasting the New York Times seems besides the point, to me. At least it had both articles up so that others could (hopefully) make the connections.

    • But the NY Times did not make the connection. As a matter of fact, they ran these articles in a way that obfuscated any connection at all. In one breath they say that rich kids do better because they have more enrichment activities. On the other hand, they APPLAUD Bloomberg’s small schools for improving graduation rates, with absolutely no mention of the fact that these small schools have no enrichment whatsoever. Only the initiated would be able to see the total contradiction in this. Unfortunately, most people are not initiated into what NYC schools are like. Therefore, most NYT readers would come away with a totally skewed view of what is happening.

      It is merely more careless and shoddy reporting on the part of the Times. Although they are not as bad as the Post (who is?), the Times is a pretty regular cheerleader of Bloomberg’s reforms.

      • “Success of Small Schools” was an article by a named reporter – Sabrina Tavernise, who is apparently not on the education beat. I don’t think you have an issue with her, so perhaps we can agree to leave her out of this charge of “careless and shoddy reporting.” The New York Times is a big and complicated institution. Your issue, here, appears to be the way it covers education, particularly a certain EDITORIAL “Successes of Small Schools.” Also, the two pieces weren’t published in the same issue.

      • I don’t really understand your criticism here. First, why would I not have an issue with the author who writes an article with which I disagree due to its shallowness? Why would we agree to “leave her out of it”? The complexity of the New York Times makes no difference whatsoever. My issue here is not only with how the New York Times covers education in general, but how the author of this one article covered it in particular. What does it say about the Times if it allows someone who is not even on the education beat to laud Bloomberg’s education reforms?

        You seem to be straining to find things to be contrary about.

  3. I think I’m reasonably contrary. I thought we could leave Tavernise out of it because you don’t criticize the achievement gap article in your post. Actually, you quote it, and you accept the quotation as insightful. It still seems to me that the author you have a problem with was the author of the editorial, not Tavernise. Tavernise, as far as I can tell, is not lauding Bloomberg policies, but trying to produce an unbiased report about studies showing a widening achievement gap.

    • Ah I see, I misunderstood you.

      I don’t see where I take issue, or even mention, Tavernise’s name. My issue was with the Times and the contradiction in their stories. Can this be chalked up to the Times being a large, unwieldy institution? Sure. It doesn’t make things less contradictory or ironic in my mind.

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