When my editorial, The Drive To Change Elite School Admissions Is All About Killing the Messenger, ran in the New York Post on March 21, I received many compliments from friends and readers.
My husband was not impressed.
He started peppering me with questions: What are the numbers for this? What are the numbers for that? What happens when you compare this set of results to this one? How do these two track against each other?
Let me tell you about my husband….
No, wait, first, let me tell you about his parents:
My husband’s father grew up in Virginia, under Jim Crow. He still mourns the loss of the all-Black schools he attended prior to Brown v. The Board of Education. My husband’s mother took one look at the public school options available to her children in Harlem in the 1970s, and said, “nope.” She then proceeded to move mountains and knock down walls until her youngest son was accepted at Hunter College Elementary, a publicly funded school for the highly-gifted. Even if, along the way, she had to contend with educators asking her, “How can a child like this know so much?”
“He watches a lot of Sesame Street,” she snapped.
By second grade, my mother-in-law decided that the school other families drop thousands of dollars on prep for wasn’t good enough for her, and moved my husband to a private school, where he and his brother became the first African-American students to walk through the door. My husband eventually attended Stuyvesant High School and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He currently teaches math and physics to middle-schoolers.
My husband comes from a long line of people who really, really care about educating minority kids. My husband really, really cares about educating minority kids. He also really, really cares about hard data. Not feel-good press releases.
So when he started asking me for stats I didn’t have off the top of my head, I showed him where he could look them up.
He looked them up. He tallied them up. He blew up.
“Our NYC public schools are really, really bad!”
“Do you want to write about it?” I asked.
“Will you write about it?”
“Yes. Will you edit it?”
“Yes. Can I change the title?”
Here’s what we came up with. His title remains intact:
Our NYC Public Schools Are Really, Really Bad
Every spring I get an email from a friend in California asking me to explain the latest variation on the annual New York Times headline: Only 7 Black Students Got Into Stuyvesant, N.Y.’s Most Selective High School, Out of 895 Spots.
I reply, our public school are really bad. According to the math portion of the state test these students took last year, only 542 black 7th graders in all of NYC earned the top score of 4.
14,566 black students took that test. 2,003 black students earned a 3.
This means that only 2,545 out of 14,566 black students in NYC are performing at level 3 or 4, which is grade level, and above grade level, respectively.
Where is the New York Times headline: Over 80% of black 7th graders in NYC fail to receive an adequate math education?
Unfortunately, the situation is even worse than that fictional headline would imply. People know that taking a test is hard, and some students can get nervous and not do well. They imagine there are probably a lot of students who have an adequate education, but are just not good test takers. They think the problem is the test. There is an argument that a great student who has mastered the material might get an 82 percent on a test because that student is a poor test taker, instead of the 100 percent they deserve because she understands all of the material. But there is no universe where a student who understands all of the material gets a 25 percent or below on their test because they are bad test takers.
7,498 black NYC 7th graders out of the 14,566 students who took the state test scored the lowest possible score of 1. A score of 2 means below grade level, so what does a 1 mean ? 1’s are not caused by the student being a poor test taker. 1’s are caused by a student not knowing the material. Students who earned a 1 were failed by our society. How can we accept these results? Where are the New York State Assembly hearings on this failure? There is nothing that can excuse this level of neglect. Not racism, not poverty, not lack of resources, not class-size, not teacher salaries. This means we have a society that just doesn’t care.
The NY Times article does have one line that everyone should carefully read: “The numbers are a stark reminder that the exam tends to produce specialized schools with classes that do not reflect the school system as a whole.”
It’s true that the specialized schools don’t reflect the school system as a whole. These schools are good, solid schools. Our school system as a whole is very, very bad. If Stuyvesant reflected the NYC school system as a whole, it wouldn’t be a school with an international reputation that makes national headlines.
The SHSAT schools take the top 8th graders, those students who probably scored a 4 in math when they took their state tests in 7th grade.
In NYC, there were 4,768 Asian, 542 Black, 1,464 Hispanic and 3,010 white students who scored a 4 on last year’s states test. Across all of the SHSAT schools, 2,620 offers were made to Asian students, 207 to Black students, and 1,344 to White Students. Since the offers used different racial categories from the state test, the offers reported 320 for Latino students, 128 for multiracial, and 419 for Unknown.
Offers were made to approximately 54 percent of those Asian students who earned a 4 on their math exam the year prior. If 54 percent of Black students who earned a 4 had received an SHSAT offer, then 297 black students instead of 207 would have earned offers out of the total 5,067 offers, equaling 4 percent of the offers. Meanwhile, Black students make up about a quarter of the total NYC public school population. The minimal difference in numbers between those who scored a 4 on the state math test and those who got into an SHSAT school suggest that the problem is not the SHSAT test itself. State tests reflect practically the same thing and, if used for admission instead of the SHSAT, would admit similar numbers of black students.
To reiterate: It’s clear that the quality of K-7 education Black students are receiving in NYC is pathetically bad.
Very, very bad.
Source for State Test Numbers
Source for Offer Data By Ethnicity