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Daily Howler: Again, Charlotte-Meck does just OK in a trial assessment
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LIMNING THE DATA FROM THE LATEST NAEP TUDA! Again, Charlotte-Meck does just OK in a trial assessment: // link // print // previous // next //

WHO WE ARE: Bob Herbert’s column in this morning’s Times gives us a look at who we are. Herbert discusses the views of Paul Shroeder and his wife, Rosemary Palmer; their son, Lance Cpl. Edward Shroeder, was killed in Iraq this past August. Corporal Shroeder’s parents oppose the war; in this, they may be right or wrong. But note the remarkable qualification Herbert felt he had to include:
HERBERT (12/5/05): In Mr. Shroeder's view, President Bush's war policies have been both tragic and futile...

''My son told us two weeks before he died that he felt the war was not worth it,'' Mr. Shroeder said. ''His complaint was about having to go back repeatedly into the same towns, to sweep the same insurgents, or other insurgents, out of these same towns without being able to hold them, secure them. It just was not working, and that's what he wanted to get across.''

Mr. Shroeder dismissed the idea that criticism of the administration and the war was evidence of a lack of support for the men and women fighting in Iraq. ''You can support the troops and be critical of the policy that put them there,'' he said.

How primitive is the mind of contemporary humans, at least inside the American discourse? Three years into this conversation, Shroeder and Herbert both feel, quite correctly, that they have to include that highlighted statement. The need to include this obvious statement shows us something about who we are; in particular, it shows how weak and primitive our thought processes are. But yes, we humans really are just this dumb—if we judge from the goony discussions which pervade talk TV and talk radio.

You can criticize the war and support the troops! Shroeder and Herbert still feel they must say this explicitly. And why must this obvious statement be made? In part, because mainstream journalists have sat and stared while pseudo-con hacks have made a joke of our discourse. Yes, the human mind can be very weak—and in certain upper-class press corps preserves, the human heart is rather weak too.
More tomorrow, this time using the two latest Krugman columns.

LIMNING THE DATA FROM THE LATEST NAEP TUDA: And yes, that’s actually written in English! Last week, the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) released the results of its 2005 Trial Urban District Assessment (TUDA). On Friday, David Herszenhorn reported the results in Gotham’s Times, in this New York-oriented piece. Since we’ve been assessing the Charlotte-Mecklenburg system in the past few weeks, we’ll focus on Charlotte-Meck’s scores in this most recent NAEP TUDA.

How did Charlotte-Mecklenburg do? You must be careful in assessing these data. Remember, Charlotte-Mecklenburg is a sprawling, urban-suburban system. For purposes of this NAEP study, Charlotte-Meck is an “urban district”—but it’s much less “urban” than other districts involved in the study, with a much less impoverished student population. In this year’s grade 4 math assessment, for example, here are the percentages of students who receive free or reduced-price lunch:

Students receiving free or reduced-price lunch, 2005 NAEP Trial Urban District Assessment (grade 4 math)
Charlotte-Mecklenburg: 44 percent
Boston: 84 percent
Chicago: 87 percent
Cleveland: 100 percent
New York: 84 percent
Los Angeles: 86 percent
On the whole, Charlotte-Mecklenburg kids are much less poor than kids in these other “urban districts.” In most categories, comparing Charlotte-Mecklenburg to these other districts is a clear case of apples-to-oranges.

Yes, it’s tricky to compare Charlotte-Mecklenburg’s black kids to Chicago’s black kids; Chicago’s black kids may be much poorer. (There’s no way to tell from the NAEP data.) Presumably, though, one comparison would be somewhat less tricky. How did Charlotte-Mecklenburg’s low-income students fare, compared to low-income kids in the other districts? That is, how did kids who qualify for free or reduced-price lunch perform on the various measures? Even this comparison is tricky (more below). But given the data which NAEP provides, it seems to be the only comparison which is even imaginably valid.

So: How did Charlotte-Mecklenburg fare among kids who qualify for free or reduced-price lunch? In 2003, Charlotte-Meck had modest success among this group (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 11/18/05). In the new 2005 assessment, Charlotte-Mecklenburg does better than most other districts among these lower-income kids. But again, its performance is mixed.

In the Trial Urban District study, NAEP tests reading and math, in grades 4 and 8. Among lower-income kids, here’s how Charlotte-Mecklenburg fared:

Results among students receiving free or reduced-price lunch, NAEP Trial Urban District Assessment, 2005

Grade 4 reading: Charlotte-Mecklenburg placed second among the eleven districts, finishing behind New York City.

Grade 8 reading: Charlotte-Mecklenburg placed sixth among the eleven districts, finishing behind New York, Boston, Chicago, Houston and San Diego.

Grade 4 math: Charlotte-Mecklenburg placed second among the eleven districts, finishing behind Austin.

Grade 8 math: Charlotte-Mecklenburg tied for fourth/fifth among the eleven districts, finishing behind Boston, New York and Houston, tying with Austin.

Among these eleven districts, Charlotte-Mecklenburg scored near the top on the grade 4 tests—and in the middle at grade 8. Remember: This involves performance by the various systems’ lower-income students—by students who qualify for free or reduced-price lunch.

Does this performance suggest that Charlotte-Mecklenburg has been working “a small revolution in public schooling”—a small revolution with “enormous implications for public schools nationwide?” We would suggest that, while Charlotte-Mecklenburg would seem to be a perfectly decent system, those claims from the web site of Making Schools Work qualify as a bit of hype. But readers should absorb one more warning. Even the comparisons offered above may involve some apples-to-oranges.

In the comparisons we’re offering here, we’re comparing Charlotte’s lower-income students to lower-income students from the other trial districts. But uh-oh! The criterion used here (free or reduced-price lunch) is a fairly crude measure. Kids don’t have to be very “poor” to qualify for reduced-price lunch. On a state-by-state basis, NAEP reports the percentage of kids who qualify for free or reduced-price lunch. Here are the figures for ten states:

Percentages of public school students qualifying for free or reduced-price lunch, 2005 NAEP data
California: 48.7 percent
Florida: 46.0 percent
Georgia: 46.4 percent
Illinois: 36.9 percent
Massachusetts: 27.2 percent
Michigan: 32.7 percent
Mississippi: 64.3 percent
North Carolina: 44.5 percent
Ohio: 29.6 percent
Texas: 46.8 percent
Question: Are Charlotte’s lower-income kids as “poor” as those in Chicago or Atlanta? More specifically, among the kids we’re discussing here, might Charlotte have a higher percentage of “reduced-price” kids, and a lower percentage of truly impoverished, “free lunch” kids? There’s no way to tell from the NAEP data. For this reason, this NAEP criterion is a fairly crude measure. If we really want to know how these districts compare, we would likely want to get more potent measures of student poverty.

But alas! In general, American newspapers like to tell pleasing tales; they’re much less drawn to hard information. Tomorrow, we’ll show you how a few newspapers have handled the fairly murky info from this latest, inconclusive NAEP TUDA.