ANOTHER FINE DISGRACE! Its a national disgrace, Bybee said. Readers knew that the Times really cares: // link // print // previous // next //
FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 17, 2006
PINEHURST OR BUST: Were off to Pinehurst—though not to play golf. But before we set out on this key mission, we spied Gothams Times—in the rough:
ANOTHER FINE DISGRACE: Are we all Borat? The incomparable question came to mind when we read this report in yesterdays Times. Diane Jean Schemo reported new results from a national testing program (the NAEP) about science achievement in urban schools. In paragraph 6, we finally got to the outrage. When we read it, it made us feel good:
SCHEMO (11/16/06): Its a national disgrace, said Rodger W. Bybee, director of the Biological Sciences Curriculum Study, which develops and evaluates science curriculums and promotes the teaching of science. We as a nation should be able to do better than that.Lets face it—it wouldnt be a report on the schools without some expert emoting like that. But what exactly was this disgrace? As a nation, we should do better than what? It wasnt clear from what Bybee said—nor was it fully clear from Schemos report. This seemed like outrage-by-the-numbers—a report our dear Borat might have penned.
What was Bybee outraged about? Heres how Schemo opened:
SCHEMO: At least half of eighth graders tested in science failed to demonstrate even a basic understanding of the subject in 9 of 10 major cities, and fourth graders, the only other group tested, fared little better, according to results released here Wednesday.According to Schemo, these results showed that student performance in urban public schools was not only poor but also far short of science scores in the nation as a whole. But when she got to paragraphs 3 and 4, the disparity in those science scores didnt seem quite as vast as promoted:
SCHEMO: Half or a little more of the eighth-grade students in Charlotte, San Diego and Boston lacked a basic grasp of science. In six of the other cities—New York, Houston, Chicago, Cleveland, Los Angeles and Atlanta—the share of eighth graders without that knowledge was even higher, ranging from about three-fifths in New York to about four-fifths in Atlanta.In three of the ten major cities, the below basic rate was half or a little more than half. But then, the below-basic rate for the nation as a whole was 43 percent! Its hard to believe that anyone would really be shocked by that type of disparity. Meanwhile, in New York City, about three-fifths scored below basic. (According to a team of experts, three-fifths is 60 percent.)
Obviously, it would be better if we lived in Lake Wobegon—if all the students were above average. But is it really still a surprise when we hear that kids in urban schools are doing somewhat worse than kids in the nation as a whole? In fact, the Times ran charts next to Schemos report; the first chart showed that white eighth-graders in four of nine cities reporting such data were doing better than their counterparts in the nation as a whole. In a fifth city, New York, the below-basic rate for white kids was 29 percent—and that was only one point worse than the rate for the whole bloomin nation.
So its largely about our minority kids. But dont we already know by now that our low-income, urban minority kids are doing less well than kids as a whole? Instead of acting like this is news, mightnt we start to ask ourselves how we could improve this situation? Heres a question wed quickly ask: How many kids in those low-income urban schools have had access to functioning, well-planned, well-equipped science programs? More specifically, if the kids are reading several years below grade level, do their teachers have textbooks and supplementary books that the kids can actually read? Well take a wild guess—no, they do not. Well guess that these kids havent been getting science textbooks they can read—or, perhaps, any science textbooks at all. (For previous work on this matter, see below.) Well guess that their teachers flounder and flail—that these children display a failure to thrive in science learning that is, in fact, wholly predictable.
So how about it? Are authorities in Gothams low-income schools providing their students with usable programs? Schemo didnt ask. Instead, she got handed this perfect pap, then rushed it into the paper:
SCHEMO: New York's schools chancellor, Joel I. Klein, pointed out in a statement that low-income students there had done better than those in most other cities, but added, ''We, like the rest of the country, have a lot more work to do in this critical area'' of teaching science to the poor.What perfect crap—well start to test them! But readers, you can test these students as much as you like, but when you see them fail the test, that doesnt tell you what to do next. It doesnt give teachers a functional science program—a program that, among other things, has lots of readable books for the students. If teachers of low-income kids dont have such things now, testing the students doesnt change that. Trust us—most of the teachers already know that their kids dont know squat about science.
But how we love to type those headlines! To feign that outrage! To shock the readers soul! It tells the reader that we really care—and sends our floundering low-income kids right back where they came from.
Its a national disgrace, Bybee said. We remember—and remember the cause.
A BASIC CONCEPT: Wait a minute! Maybe Bybee was outraged by the fact that 43 percent of all eighth-graders scored below basic in science. Maybe—but lets stay clear on a very key point. Its always a subjective matter when you decide what counts as basic. Some experts think the NAEP is unreasonably hard. For ourselves, we have no opinion.
VISIT OUR INCOMPARABLE ARCHIVES: Do low-income kids have science books they can read? Textbooks and supplementary materials? We first asked the question in 1982; see THE DAILY HOWLER, 10/30/06. Also: Did Ruben ever get to read about frogs? See THE DAILY HOWLER, 3/30/06.