# Michael Holzman

# A. Trickle Down Education in New York City

Trickle Down Education in New York City

“This fall, the schools chancellor, David C. Banks . . . saying that while all children have value, those who work “really hard” should get priority over “the child you have to throw water on their face to get them to go to school every day.” New York Times, October 24, 2022.

Public education in the United States was created, in the first place, to educate all young people so as to be able to participate in public life. Later, it acquired the goal of equipping students for employment. The New York City school district has seemingly long since abandoned any such intention of providing equal opportunities for education for all the students in its care. Chancellor Banks’s remarks quoted above simply make this explicit.

The 2022 results of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) provide an in-depth display of the consequences of these policies. The assessments are done at grades 4, 8 and 12. The grade 8 Reading and Mathematics assessments are particularly crucial. Success, “Proficiency,” flags students as those on the high road to graduation, college, and an economically comfortable adult life. Failure, scores “below Basic,” indicate that other students are on the low road. They will have difficulty graduating from high school; are unlikely to qualify for admission to college; will face a lifetime of minimal wage work or chronic unemployment, are not well equipped for participation in public life.

NAEP provides results for a variety of categories of the student population. Among those categories are certain Racial/Ethnic groups, chiefly “White,” “Black,” “Hispanic,” and “Asian/Pacific Islander.” Another category is an approximation of family economic status: eligibility for the National School Lunch Program. A third is parental education attainment.

The racial/ethnic categories are particularly problematic in New York City, where each of them is composed of highly varied racial, ethnic, linguistic and national origin groups. “Black” students can be the descendants of Africans enslaved in the United States or those whose families recently emigrated from the Islands or recent immigrants from Africa itself. “Hispanic” students can be first or second generation or descended from earlier emigrants from highly developed or from lesser developed countries. “Asian/Pacific Islander” students may be of Chinese, Japanese, Indian, Filipino, Hawaiian and many other origins. And “White” students can be of equally disparate national origins and generations in this country. Nonetheless, as NAEP does not provide data more finely divided than the major categories, we must work with those.

READING

Student achievement at grade 8 is a particularly important educational indicator. Eighth grade is in many ways a “gateway” to further education. In New York City, students who do not reach the “Advanced” level at grade 8 are unlikely to be prepared for the tests required for admission to the city’s specialized high schools. And students who have not been taught basic skills in grade 8 may have difficulty acquiring them later.

Here are the percentages of students found to read at each NAEP level.

All Students

below Basic at Basic at Proficient at Advanced

37 35 23 4

NAEP defines the “Basic” level for Grade 8 Reading in this way:

When Reading informational texts such as exposition and argumentation, eighth-grade students performing at the NAEP Basic level can likely:

• determine the meaning of words using context from one section of the text

• locate and use explicit details to answer specific questions and make simple inferences about the text

• determine the main idea or purpose of the text using explicit features from the text

• demonstrate a general understanding of text features or graphics

• demonstrate a general understanding of the concepts in the text but can support their understanding using only limited information from the text

• formulate an opinion about a claim or argument and support this opinion using only limited information from the text, etc.

We might therefore assume that students in Grade 8 who are found to be Reading at the NAEP “below Basic” level are not likely to be able to do these things. In other words, it is unlikely that they are able to make much use of written materials in school, or later at work, or in everyday and public life.

There are 78,000 grade 8 students in the New York City schools. According to these NAEP results, the city’s schools have not taught 37%, 29,000, of their students to read well enough to use reading as a resource for further education and adult life.

Family income

Family income in New York City is related to housing patterns in one of the most segregated cities in the United States. Most families of students in grade 8 in New York are “economically disadvantaged.” Lower family income implies homes in segregated neighborhoods “served” by segregated schools. It is also related to educational achievement.

Eligible for the National School Lunch Program

below Basic at Basic at Proficient at Advanced

44 36 18 2

Not Eligible for the National School Lunch Program

17 33 40 10

Of the 59,000 New York City students in grade 8 who are economically disadvantaged, eligible for the National School Lunch Program, 34,000 (44%) place in the below Basic group. Only 13,400 (17%) of those with family incomes above that level do so: a 27 percentage-point gap.

Race and Ethnicity

Not withstanding the issues noted above concerning racial and ethnic categorization in New York City, NAEP Reading results among New York City’s students classified by race and ethnicity show wide variations.

Asian/Pacific Islander

below Basic at Basic at Proficient at Advanced

19 33 41 8

Hispanic

48 35 16 2

Black

49 38 12 1

White

15 35 39 10

1,650 of the 11,000 “White” grade 8 students in the city score below Basic, as do 2,500 of the 13, 0000 Asian/Pacific Islander students. On the other hand, 9,800 of Black and 15,500 of Hispanic grade 8 students do not reach the Basic level in Reading.

According to these NAEP results, the New York City schools do not teach half of their Black and Hispanic students to read.

Race, Ethnicity and Family Income

The family income achievement divide also plays out within most of the racial/ethnic groups. Four times the percentage of White students eligible for the National School Lunch Program (29%), than those from more prosperous families (7%), do not reach the Basic level in Reading. For Asian students the income effect is strong, but less than that for White students: 21% and 10%. There is a similar degree of family income effect by this measure for Hispanic students: 51% are placed below Basic among those eligible, and 27% among those not eligible, for the National School Lunch Program.

Reading Eligible for the National School Lunch Program

below Basic at Basic at Proficient at Advanced

White 29 45 22 4

Black 53 36 11 1

Hispanic 51 34 13 1

Asian/P.I. 21 37 37 6

Not Eligible for the National School Lunch Program

White 7 30 49 15

Black - - - -

Hispanic 27 37 30 5

Asian/P.I. 10 21 55 14

Family economic circumstances for Asian, Hispanic and White students overwhelm racial/ethnic cultural factors (if any). There is no family income effect measurable for Black students as, statistically, there are too few Black students in the city from families not eligible for the National School Lunch Program for NAEP to measure. The gap between Black and Hispanic student outcomes on the one hand, and White and Asian students on the other, is in the same range as the family income gap. This is probably not coincidental, as family income in New York City itself varies by race and ethnicity, with most Asian and White, non-Hispanic, family incomes greater than most Black and Hispanic incomes.

Parental Education

Parental education attainment is an additional factor often identified as affecting student achievement. Among students who reported that their parents graduated from college, only 18% of Asian students placed in the below Basic category for grade 8 Reading, as did just 8% of White students. And yet, 41% of Black students and 44% of Hispanic students whose parents graduated from college placed in that lowest category.

Reading Parent Graduated College

below Basic at Basic at Proficient at Advanced

White 8 28 49 14

Black 41 42 16 1

Hispanic 44 34 19 3

Asian/P.I. 18 27 46 10

Education attainment is usually correlated with income, implying a strong relationship between the family income and parental education data. However, in New York City, parental education attainment and, presumably, family income, is associated with student grade 8 Reading achievement for most White, non-Hispanic, and Asian students, but much less so for students in the Black and Hispanic categories. Again, neighborhood and school segregation effects may be a factor. Even well-educated Black and Hispanic parents may not be able to afford housing in New York City neighborhoods served by the city’s better middle schools, which are almost all in Manhattan.

Reading Summary

According to these NAEP results, the New York City public schools fail to teach over one-third of the middle school students in their care to learn to use literacy so that they are likely to graduate from high school, go on to college, achieve economic prosperity. This failure is much worse for Black and Hispanic students and within each racial/ethnic category for those students from low-income families.

MATHEMATICS

Turning then to the increasingly important subject of Mathematics, students performing at the NAEP Mathematics Basic achievement level in grade 8 can likely

• simplify expressions involving integers

• use operations to solve real-world problems involving integers or fractions

• use proportional relationships to find equivalent ratios and create fractions and fractional relationships, with or without models

• demonstrate understanding of scientific notation, etc.

We might therefore assume that students at the NAEP “below Basic” level in Grade 8 Mathematics are not likely to be able to do these things. In other words, it is unlikely that they are able to use Mathematics beyond simple arithmetic. In 2022 these would include nearly half, 48%, of all NYC grade 8 students.

All Students: Mathematics

below Basic at Basic at Proficient at Advanced

48 27 15 9

As with the Reading assessment, there are wide variations in Mathematics among students by racial and ethnicity classifications. 78% of “White” grade 8 students in the city score at the Basic level and above in Mathematics, as do 83% of Asian/Pacific Islander students. In contrast, 69% of Black and 60% of Hispanic grade 8 students do not reach the Basic level in the Mathematics assessment.

Mathematics below Basic at Basic at Proficient at Advanced

White 22 32 26 19

Black 69 25 5 -

Hispanic 60 29 9 2

Asian/P.I. 17 24 32 26

As with Reading, in addition to the apparent racial/ethnic effects, there are family income contrasts in the outcome of the NAEP grade 8 Mathematics assessment.

Mathematics Eligible for the National School Lunch Program

below Basic at Basic at Proficient at Advanced

White 34 32 23 12

Black 71 23 6 -

Hispanic 63 28 8 2

Asian/P.I. 19 27 31 22

Not Eligible for the National School Lunch Program

White 14 33 28 25

Black - - - -

Hispanic 43 33 18 6

Asian/P.I. 13 15 33 39

More than half of the city’s grade 8 students eligible for the National School Lunch Program (54%) do not reach the Basic level in Mathematics. More than twice the percentage of White students eligible for the National School Lunch Program (34%) than those from more prosperous families (14%) also do not reach the Basic level in Mathematics. For Asian students the income effect is less than that for White students, only a 6 percentage-point gap based on family income: 19% and 13%. The family income effect by this measure for Hispanic students is about the same as for White students: 63% and 43% score below Basic among those eligible and not eligible, respectively, for the National School Lunch Program. There is no family income effect available for Black students as, statistically, there are too few Black students in the city from families not eligible for the National School Lunch Program for NAEP to measure.

Mathematics Summary

The New York City public schools fail to teach half of the middle school students in their care to learn to use Mathematics well enough so that they are likely to graduate from high school, go on to college, achieve economic prosperity. This failure is much worse for Black and Hispanic students and, within each racial/ethnic category, those students from low-income families.

PROFICIENCY

We might close by looking at the Grade 8 Mathematics results for students scoring at the NAEP “Proficient” and “Advanced” levels. NAEP defines “Proficient” in this way: “Students performing at the NAEP Proficient achievement level can likely

• demonstrate an understanding of using and creating ratios to solve problems mathematically or in context

• calculate GCF and LCM

• perform basic operations with rational numbers to solve problems in context while applying proper units and converting between fractions, decimals, and percent

• compare and order rational numbers with rational or common irrational numbers with or without a number line

• apply problem-solving strategies to solve square roots and ratio and proportions, etc.

NAEP defines “Advanced” in this way: “Students performing at the NAEP Advanced achievement level can likely

• solve mathematical problems and problems in context with rational numbers including absolute values and variables by interpreting, creating and using diagrams

• engage with abstract situations and apply properties such as even and/or odd numbers, divisibility rules, and prime and composite numbers in mathematic situations, etc.

Here, again, is the racial/ethnicity distribution:

Mathematics below Basic at Basic at Proficient at Advanced

White 22 32 26 19

Black 69 25 5 -

Hispanic 60 29 9 2

Asian/P.I. 17 24 32 26

By these measures, the New York City schools educate 45% of White students to NAEP’s target (Proficient and Advanced) for grade 8 in Mathematics, 5% of Black students, 11% of Hispanic students and 58% of Asian/Pacific Islander students. 19% of White students are brought to the Advanced level, as are 26% of Asian students, 2% of Hispanic students and no Black students.

For all intents and purposes, the New York City Schools do not educate Black and Hispanic students to the level expected in Mathematics at grade 8.

Family income

Twice the percentage of students from prosperous households than those eligible for the National School Lunch Program reach Proficiency or above, and three times the percentage of students from prosperous families than those from families eligible for the National School Lunch Program reach the Advanced category.

Eligible for the National School Lunch Program

below Basic at Basic at Proficient at Advanced

54 27 13 6

Not Eligible for the National School Lunch Program

30 29 23 19

The 2022 NAEP report shows that 23% of “White” grade 8 students eligible for the National School Lunch Program reached the “Proficient” level in Mathematics and 12% went beyond that to the “Advanced” level: 35%. “White” students from more prosperous households, and therefore ineligible for the National School Lunch Program, reached the “Proficient” level 29% of the time, while 25% reached the “Advanced” level: 54%. 31% of Asian students eligible for the National School Lunch Program were categorized as “Proficient,” 22% at Advanced: 53%. Ineligible Asian students were categorized as “Proficient” 33% of the time and “Advanced” 39%: a total of 72%. Hispanic students in grade 8 who were eligible for the National School Lunch Program were classed as “Proficient” 8% and “Advanced” 2%: 10% Those Hispanic students from more prosperous families reached the “Proficient” level 18% and “Advanced” 6%: a total of 24%. 6% of Black students eligible for the National School Lunch Program achieved the “Proficient” level. None were in the “Advanced” category. As before, there was no data available for Black students who were ineligible for the National School Lunch Program.

Mathematics Eligible for the National School Lunch Program

below Basic at Basic at Proficient at Advanced

White 34 32 23 12

Black 71 23 6 -

Hispanic 63 28 8 2

Asian/P.I. 19 27 31 22

Not Eligible for the National School Lunch Program

White 14 33 29 25

Black - - - -

Hispanic 43 33 18 6

Asian/P.I. 13 15 33 39

CONCLUSION

In this education economy of artificial scarcity, investment is distributed in accordance with the maxim: those that have more get more. In other words, students from families with higher incomes are to be educated to higher levels of achievement than those from families with lower incomes. Chancellor Banks’s students who “work really hard,” judging by these results, seem to be overwhelmingly “White” or “Asian” and those of any group who come from prosperous families, while those whom he has “to throw water on their face to get them to go to school every day” just happen to be “Black” or “Hispanic” or those from any group whose families are relatively poor. In New York City’s schools, those that have more get more.

Michael Holzman

November, 2022