Anytime you read the phrase “radical centrist politics”, especially when education is under discussion, for your own sanity, you should just stop reading. I’m telling you this because I didn’t do that, and wound up reading this dreadful piece in The Economist. Here’s the truly stupid part (boldface mine):
Even the sort of inequality produced by meritocracy can hurt growth. If income gaps get wide enough, they can lead to less equality of opportunity, especially in education. Social mobility in America, contrary to conventional wisdom, is lower than in most European countries. The gap in test scores between rich and poor American children is roughly 30-40% wider than it was 25 years ago…
School reform and introducing choice is crucial: no Wall Street financier has done as much damage to American social mobility as the teachers’ unions have.
Let’s talk about that income gap effect, but this time using data (cuz data are all science-y ‘n shit). While the NAEP data, widely considered to be the gold standard for academic data aren’t broken down by income 25 years back, we can compare 1996 to 2011 (data here in .xlsx format). If we look at eight grade math scores (although the pattern holds across subjects and grades), we see that the overall income gap hasn’t increased at all. When we break things down by demography and income, we find that the gaps are either unchanged or have decreased slightly.
For the mathematically challenged, which apparently includes the august solons at The Economist, unchanged or decreased slightly is not the same as “30-40% wider.” It is a falsity worthy of Mitt Romney however.
There’s another observation that’s important: when we look at scores of different groups, in most cases, low-income children today are scoring as well as non-low income children did fifteen years ago (plus or minus depending on the particular group). That’s right: despite the pernicious influence of TEACHERZ UNIONZ!!, somehow students have managed to increase their performance by one to two grade levels.
Fucking teachers and their goddamn unions!
The Economist article demonstrates that, despite neo-liberals’ airs of scientific objectivity and rationalism, they can be as dogmatic and refractory to evidence as any batshitloonitarian creationist.
What garbage journalism.